Rice dishes hold a place of honor in cultures across the globe, and they are also the kind of perfect, one-pot recipes we reach for when we’re pondering family dinner. Whether it’s Spanish paella, Indian biryani, or arroz con pollo, there’s no meal more satisfying than a bowl piled high with fragrant rice, sautéed vegetables, and savory bites of meat or seafood. It’s the kind of cooking that’s both unfussy and crowd-pleasing: comfort food at its finest. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, celebrated most famously in New Orleans as the last hurrah before Lent, is the perfect reason to devote yourself to making a Creole jambalaya. Our version is fully loaded with meat and juicy shrimp, but the genius of jambalaya–like all real home cooking–is its adaptability: feel free to alter the dish according to your tastes and what you happen to have on hand. You can add some jalapeño peppers or take out the seafood, use a full complement of spices or pare them back to basics. Even the roux is optional, if you’re looking to go gluten-free. Just don’t leave out the ham, since tradition holds that the name of the dish derives from jambon, the French word for ham. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
3 tbsp olive oil
Optional for roux: 2 tbsp flour
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped (reserve ½ stalk for stock below, if making)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ lb cooked ham, diced
½ lb smoked pork sausage, such as spanish chorizo, linguica or andouille, sliced
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
3 ½ cups chicken stock (or use shrimp stock made from shells–see below)
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chili powder or paprika (smoked, sweet or hot)
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 ½ lb shrimp, peeled or with shells if you want to make shrimp stock
Salt and pepper to taste
4 scallions, sliced
Optional, for shrimp stock:
5 cups water
1 bay leaf
½ cup chopped onion
½ celery stalk, chopped
5 black peppercorns
1 tbsp salt
If you want to make a shrimp stock, shell the shrimp and place shells in a saucepan with other stock ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered, then strain and discard solids. Set stock aside–you should have about 4 cups. If using chicken stock, begin at the next step.
In a large, heavy saucepan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat. In batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, sauté chicken thighs with a pinch of salt until browned, then use a slotted spoon to remove to a plate. If using a roux, lower heat to medium; add 2 tbsp of flour to fat in pan and stir constantly for a few minutes until it is golden brown–do not burn (otherwise, you can skip this step; stew will simply be less thick). Once roux is golden, add onions, celery and peppers and sauté until softened.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, oregano and paprika or chili powder, stirring to blend and scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add 3½ cups stock and rice, along with chicken, sliced sausage and ham, then bring to the boil. Lower heat and cover pot, simmering for 10 minutes. Stir in shrimp, cover and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until rice is tender. At any point, add more stock if it looks dry; it should be more solid than soup, but not much. Season to taste and serve with sliced scallions as a garnish.