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Jambalaya: Bowls on the Bayou
Few dishes get taste buds singing of New Orleans quite the way jambalaya does. Check out Groupon’s guide to this traditional meal for a glimpse at its storied origins.
Take some andouille sausage, chicken, and shrimp, toss in some veggies, add plenty of spices, and let rice soak up the flavor—that’s the delicious simplicity of jambalaya. A dish inextricably tied to New Orleans, jambalaya can have as many variations as there are families who cook it. Some recipes dictate a specific meat, others rely on whatever game is on hand, and some skip the meat altogether and simply call for a pot of veggies.
Regardless of ingredients, the style almost always falls into one of two camps: creole or Cajun. The main difference between the two lies in the use of a key ingredient—tomatoes—but the order in which the ingredients cook also is an important distinction. Creole jambalaya, the traditional favorite of New Orleans, lets onion, celery, and peppers simmer together before the addition of tomatoes, rice, and stock, resulting in a stew with a red hue and pleasant acidity. Conversely, Cajun jambalaya, more commonly found in rural Louisiana, eschews tomatoes and calls on cooks to brown the meat before adding the veggies to create a deeper, smokier flavor. Either way, jambalaya is versatile—any recipe can be altered to include whatever ingredients are on hand or to feed however many relatives or tax auditors happen to gather around the table.
Jambalaya’s origins are unclear, since both its preparation and its name appear to be the result of blending the multiple cultures of the Big Easy. Some say Spanish immigrants, attempting to make paella, stumbled upon the recipe when they substituted tomatoes for saffron. According to whom you ask, the name is a mash-up of the French word jambon (ham) and aya (possibly an African word for rice). Or the Spanish jamón and paella. Or the Provençal word jambalaia, which means mishmash. One legend spins a more colorful yarn: late one night, a traveler arrived at an inn well after dinnertime but was too famished to wait till morning. The inn’s cook, Jean, was told to “balayez”—throw together—something to feed the man. Although it was only a mix of leftovers, the traveler loved the meal and dubbed it “Jean’s balayez.”