Jambalaya is a family of Louisiana dishes made of rice, stock, meats and vegetables, seasoned with Creole Seasoning. Some recipes involve tomatoes and tomato sauce (New Orleans Creole-style "red" jambalaya), others use only chicken or beef stock and no tomatoes (Cajun-style "brown" jambalaya).There is a close cousin in Spain called paella. Jambalaya originated from New Orleans, as an attempt by the Spanish to cook Spanish seafood paella in the New World, when they took over la Louisiane française following the Seven Years' War. Saffron, an essential ingredient of paella, was not readily available due to import costs, therefore tomatoes became the substitute for saffron. Over time, French influence took over in New Orleans, and spices from the Caribbean changed this New World paella into a unique dish.
In making Creole Jambalaya, meat, usually chicken and andouille or smoked sausage, is browned in a sauce pan, followed by vegetables, tomatoes and seafood. Rice and stock are added in equal proportions, the mixture is brought to a boil and left to simmer for 20 to 60 minutes.
Cajun Jambalaya comes from the Cajun Country (southern and southwestern Louisiana) and contains no tomatoes. The meat is browned in a cast-iron pot and the bits of meat that stick to the bottom of the pot give Cajun jambalaya its brown color. A little vegetable oil is added if there was not enough fat in the pot already. The trinity (onions, celery, and green bell pepper) is added and sautéed until soft. Stock and seasonings are added in the next step, and then the meats are returned to the pot. This mixture is then simmered, covered, for at least one hour. At the end, the mixture is brought to a boil and rice is added to the pot. It is then covered and left to simmer over very low heat for at least 1/2 hour without stirring.
The type of rice typically used in Jambalaya is long-grain.
A popular often heard theory tries to explain the origin of the word "jambalaya" as stemming from the Spanish and French words for ham (jamón and jambon, respectively). However, it seems much more likely that the name is simply derived from the word jambalaia, which means rice pilaf in the Provençal dialect spoken in southern France, Monaco, and parts of Spain and Italy.
Anoter dish that probably contributed to the evolution of Jambalaya is Jollof Rice from West Africa. It is thought to have originated in The Gambia and later spread to the whole of West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana. The basic ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, red pepper and nearly any kind of meat (chicken, beef, bush meat, fish). We remember Jollof Rice from Nigeria made with ginger, garlic, curry powder, chile, thyme and bay leaf.
Paella is a rice dish from eastern Spain (Catalunya) made of vegetables, tomato, seafood or meat, seasoned with saffron. The name Paella is a Calatan word for "pan".
Rice was introduced to Spain by the Moors during the time of Al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Spain). The Moors were Muslims of black, Berber, and Arab descent from North Africa, who conquered most of modern-day Spain and Portugal in 711 A.D. and ruled it for nearly 800 years until 1492 when the last Emirate (the Emirate of Granada) fell. The real origins of paella probably date to these times when the Moors ruled Spain. The Moors cooked various forms of the pilaf (or palau), which in turn has its origins to the very first culinary uses of rice in ancient Persia in the 5th century B.C. The Pilaf spread throughout the Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia, and was the likely predecessor of Paella in Muslim-ruled Spain.
Paella, in turn, is considered to be the direct ancestor of the Creole Jambalaya.
18th century Valencians cooked an early version of paella consisting of rice, beans, meat and seafood. The present form of Paella first appeared in 1840 in Valencia. Today, Valencian paella (Paella Valenciana) is made with short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, sometimes snails or duck, beans, artichoke, tomatoes, rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, garlic, salt, olive oil and water. Seafood paella (Paella Marinera) is made throughout the Mediterranean coast of northeast Spain. Mussles, shrimp and langoustines are used instead of meat and beans.
Properly made paella is not at all creamy or saucy like risotto, but more glistening, almost dry. This comes from the particular variety of short-grain rice that is used. The traditional varieties are from the Calasparra region around the Province of Murcia. "Bomba" is the is the best quality rice grown there. The one marked as just "Calasparra" is not as highly prized, but it is quite a bit less expensive. If Bomba rice is not available, Calasparra rice is a good substitute, and if that is not available Italian short-grain Arborio rice can be used. However, the Bomba variety is fatter than the other ones and thus absorbs considerably more liquid. Therefore, using Bomba rice will result in a properly cooked dry paella, while Arborio and Calasparra rice will give it a creamier character, more like a risotto. Using Calasparra rice calls for a ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part rice. Bomba, being more absorbent, calls for a ratio of 3:1.
Risotto, unlike Paella and Jambalaya, evolved through a completely different avenue. Rice was introduced to Italy by Venetian traders in the 15th century, via merchant ships sailing to and from SE Asia. Rice was adopted quickly and the principal rice-growing area became the northern part of the country (Piedmont, Veneto). A high-starch, round, medium-grain rice is used to make risotto, because it has the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, which gives risotto its typical creamy texture. The typical varieties are Carnaroli and Vialone Nano rice, to a lesser degree Arborio rice.
Properly cooked risotto is rich and creamy, unlike the paella, but still with some resistance or bite: al dente, and with separate grains. It should be served on flat dishes and it should easily spread out but not have excess watery liquid around the perimeter. It must be eaten at once as it continues to cook in its own heat and can become too dry with the grains too soft.
There are a wide variety of ways to make jambalaya,
Optional ingredients can include sliced porcini mushrooms, making it a Risotto con i Funghi Porcini; asparagus, making it a Risotto con gli Asparagi; tomato sauce, making it a Risotto con il Sugo; sausages, beans and red wine, making it a Risotto al Barolo; or cuttlefish cooked with their ink sacs intact, making it a Risotto al Nero di Seppia. But the classic Milan-style risotto is just this.
Last updated: October 12, 2010