If you're unfamiliar with Cajun or Creole cooking, you might have accidentally used Jambalaya and Gumbo as interchangeable terms. As dishes, these rank among Louisiana's most loved, and while they both contain the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking (celery, bell peppers, and onion), meat and seafood—it's easy to see why many non-Louisiana natives mistake them for the same thing.
There is a distinct difference, and it mainly revolves around adding rice during cooking. If you've never made Gumbo or Jambalaya before and are interested in what they are and how to make them, we're excited to share what we know! Let's dig in!
What Is Jambalaya?
Jambalaya is a dish that originated sometime in the early 18th century in Southern Louisiana. It has been a signature beloved dish in New Orleans cuisine since Colonial Spanish settlers tried to remake their native paella from locally-sourced ingredients found and grown in the area at that time. Jambalaya draws its ingredients from a mix of cultures, such as the French, West Africans, Germans, and Native Americans.
Rice is the crucial ingredient in jambalaya, not as a side. The rice creates a thick, delicious stew that is a distant cousin to the Spanish paella dish but is created with local ingredients. Every Chef and every family has their interpretation and recipe for making jambalaya, but though spices and some ingredients vary, tradition keeps the dish recognizable with familiar elements—rice, protein, vegetable, and spices.
Creole jambalaya, also known as red jambalaya, contains tomatoes. Cajun or brown jambalaya does not. Jambalaya does not use a roux for thickening, though some cooked might include flour browned in a skillet.
What is Gumbo?
Gumbo is always served alongside hot, long-grain white rice, but it never has rice go into the gumbo during cooking. Most traditional gumbo recipes contain vegetables and one or more meats such as chicken, turkey, or other birds with seafood, or seafood alone, simmered together in a thickened stock. Gumbo can be brothy in consistency or thickened like stew, depending on the cook's preferences.
Along with rice being served with—not cooked with—gumbo making it different from jambalaya, the foundation of every great gumbo is the roux, which jambalaya does not use. Roux can seem daunting to many first-time cooks, but it is surprisingly simple. It is flour and fat cooked together until they transform into a thick paste. Some recipes will call for the roux to be cooked until lightly golden; others recommend it is cooked until a deep, dark brown. The darker the roux, the more depth of flavor and color you'll bring to your gumbo.
Gumbo is both a Creole and a Cajun dish.
- 1 medium green bell pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 stalks of celery
- 6 cloves of garlic
- ½ bunch of fresh parsley (optional)
- 2-3 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning, divided
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more if needed
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 1 rotisserie chicken
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or neutral cooking oil, such as canola or vegetable, divided
- 6 cups chicken broth, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons file powder (Optional)
- 4 tablespoons or ½ stick of butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
For serving and Garnish:
- ½ bunch of medium scallions, chopped
- 3 cups long-grain white rice, cooked
- Preferred hot sauce
How to Cook:
- Prepare the following, placing each in a medium bowl: trim and dice 1 medium green pepper, 1 medium onion, and 3 celery stalks.
- Add to the medium bowl 6 minced garlic cloves, ½ bunch of coarsely chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning, 2 tablespoons of thyme, 1 bay leaves, and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, stirring to combine.
- If using raw chicken thighs: cut them into 1-inch pieces, then season with salt, pepper, and the remaining tablespoon of Cajun seasoning. If using rotisserie chicken, pick the meat from the bones, shred it, and discard skin and bone—no need to season the rotisserie chicken meat.
- Slice andouille sausages into ½ think inch rounds. Cook in a very large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned all over and fat has been released, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- In the same large pot or Dutch oven, reduce heat to medium and scrape any browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add 4 tablespoons of butter, ¼ cup of neutral oil or bacon drippings, and ½ cup of all-purpose flour. Cook, stirring the entire time and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the roux forms and resembles the color and texture of melted chocolate. 10-20 minutes. You should note that it will change from smelling like flour to an almost roasted popcorn scent, finally ending in a nutty coffee scent. Do not leave it unattended or stop stirring, or else the roux will burn.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add bell pepper mix, stir constantly and cook until onion is transparent. Add garlic mix, and add set-aside cut and cooked sausages and chicken into the pot. Stir until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add 6 cups of chicken broth, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 25-45 minutes. During this time, cook your white rice and chop your scallions.
- After 35-45 minutes, taste the gumbo and season it with more salt, pepper, or hot sauce if needed. Serve immediately alongside the rice, or let cool and store in the fridge to serve the day after (which many say tastes the best.)
- 4 tablespoons bacon grease or neutral oil
- 1 pound pork shoulder or boneless ribs
- 1 pound sausages, andouille, or your choice
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup green onions, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 4 cups long-grain rice, uncooked
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or more, to taste
- 1 14-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
- 1 cup okra, thinly sliced
- 1 pound raw shrimp
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon oregano, dry
- 1 tablespoon basil, dry
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
How to Cook:
- Cube and cut all meats, and set aside in a bowl. Chop and dice all vegetables, and set aside.
- Mix the herb and spice blend, except for salt, in a bowl, and set aside.
- Melt the bacon grease or heat neutral oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven with a lid. Add the cubed pork and cook until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, scraping the brown bits that stick off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
- After the pork is cooked and golden, add sausage and brown, continuing to scrape the bottom of the pan. Brown for another 10 minutes or until fat is rendered.
- Add the chicken to the pork and sausage in the dutch oven, and turn up the heat a touch. Keep stirring. After 10 to 15 minutes, the chicken should be cooked, and all meat should be a deep golden brown.
- Add your chopped vegetables and stir until mixed well. Let them cook down and begin to caramelize for about 15 minutes, stirring as needed to keep them from burning.
- Add the garlic and stir for about 2 more minutes. Add half the spice blend and a pinch of salt.
- Add diced or crushed tomatoes, stirring to combine.
- Add the stock, start with a cup at a time and stir and scrape to deglaze the pot. Add remaining stock, stirring each time. Bring to a steady simmer and continue simmering for 15 minutes, uncovered.
- Add the rice, stir together and bring the mix to a full boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook on low for 30 minutes. Do not uncover until the 15-minute mark to quickly stir and scrape the bottom so it does not burn. Replace the lid and cover tightly.
- As the rice is cooking, add 2 tablespoons of butter to a frying pan on medium-high heat and sear the shrimp for no more than two minutes on each side. Set aside.
- After 30 minutes (or 15 minutes after stirring), taste it to see if the rice is cooked and how the spices are. If the stock has not been absorbed, cook it another 5-15 minutes uncovered.
- Stir in the seared shrimp and okra, cooking on low for another 5-8 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve warm, garnished with chopped green onions.
Aside from Gumbo and Jambalaya, there are many wonderful Cajun and Creole dishes to try to add to your weekly meal planning. Whether you've never tried either or want to explore the world of delicious new meals, at Wholey, we'll be here to provide you with everything you need conveniently delivered right to your door!