A flavorful and comforting Jambalaya-style Cajun Rice, paired with a lightly sweet Maple Cornbread. Match made in heaven!
I am aware I bake way too much, so I don’t know if it will surprise people when I say I also have quite a love for cooking. I suppose it’s kind of a hidden love at this point, since I don’t have any proof to back it up. There’s a simple explanation as to why I don’t cook too much, and it’s really just because a lot of other people can do the cooking in our house. But I think I want to contribute more in that department.
Lately I’ve been brainstorming themed meal plans involving recipes from different parts of the world, and it’s no surprise that I’ve already come up with literally hundreds of dish combinations I would like to film videos for. (Over 200 as of this writing.) It’s either a combination of two savory dishes, or an entree and dessert duo. Frankly, I am itching to try cooking quite a lot of things since I haven’t travelled in a while. And even though I know I’ll still end up baking a lot, I’ll probably end up cooking a lot of interesting dishes as well if all goes to plan.
Today’s recipe combination is one of the first ones I wrote down on my list. It’s inspired by my desires to visit New Orleans someday and try their local cuisine. And since I can’t do that any time soon, I decided to make something with Cajun flavors at home.
I’m actually a little nervous about calling this dish a jambalaya straight out since I took some liberties. And since I have never tried the real thing I can’t even vouch for the authenticity of what I cooked. So for the sake of umm… cultural accuracy? Let’s just say I made Jambalaya-inspired Cajun Rice. It’s delicious either way but I really don’t want to argue with internet experts over “proper jambalaya”.
Interestingly enough, it’s a well-accepted fact that a good side dish for jambalaya is cornbread. Now I am always looking for an excuse to cook cornbread and pair it with something, so this was a great opportunity to do just that. Even though it’s not really usual for us in the Philippines to pair our rice with bread, I love cornbread too much to pass up this chance.
Cornbread is amazing paired with many things, but it’s especially good with spice-laden comfort foods like chili and jambalaya. (This Cherry Chipotle Chili is especially great with cornbread!) Just forget about calories for a second and allow yourself to enjoy, as I did lol.
So here’s the thing: I will not presume to teach you how to make jambalaya. Like I said, I’ve never tried the real thing before. But I will give you some tips and notes on my personal experience making this rice dish, because I think it’s an amazing way to cook rice. Not only is it flavorful, you have everything you could need from just this one pot: meat, seafood, veggies, carbs. Since jambalaya is originally designed to be a “fridge cleaning” dish, you can use whatever you have in the fridge as add-on’s and throw it in here while still keeping to the basic structure of the recipe.
For a dish that’s not particularly difficult to cook, it does have a long list of ingredients. (That’s why it’s so flavorsome!) One of those is something called a Cajun Spice Mix, and if you make cajun dishes often it’s a worthy investment. However if you check it out online, you’ll find that it’s a rather expensive spice mix for the occasional cajun recipe. The quick and inexpensive fix is to just make your own Cajun Spice Mix.
If you maintain a decent spice rack in your kitchen, you will recognize most of the spices that make up a Cajun Spice Mix. Here’s what you’ll need: 1½ Tablespoons paprika, 1 Tablespoon EACH fine sea salt and garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon dried thyme, 1½ teaspoons EACH black pepper, white pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano (whole leaves or ground is fine). I like to put these spices into a tupperware with a lid so I can just quickly shake to combine. This will yield about 6 Tablespoons of seasoning, and you will need only 2 Tablespoons for this recipe. (I already have plans for the leftovers so watch out for that!) I got this recipe from Gimme Some Oven as well.
Now let’s start the recipe. Though this may seem like common sense, I still want to remind everyone that it’s important to have all your ingredients close by before you start cooking. This way you won’t feel pressured when you’re in the thick of things. First, heat up some oil in a large pan over high heat. Add in the celery, onion, bell peppers, jalapeño pepper, and minced garlic. For the vegetables, you’ll want to slice them into similar sizes so they’ll cook evenly. By the way, I used siling pangsigang (long green Philippine chili) rather than jalapeño pepper because that’s what I had. Cook these for about 5 minutes, until they’re soft and aromatic.
Next, add in your chicken, then your sausage. For jambalaya, it’s typical to use Andouille sausage, which is a coarse-grained, smoky, and strong-flavored sausage. I think this sausage is a signature component of jambalaya and I can’t think of a similar tasting sausage to substitute, so I will recommend that you go buy some if you’re planning to make this. I used Aguila brand Andouille Sausage. It’s very good! I’m planning to try their other sausages for some upcoming recipes.
Cook the meats for another 5 minutes until you notice the chicken is no longer pink and is almost cooked all the way through. At this point, add in your chicken stock and canned tomatoes.
Then add in your uncooked rice (washed clean of course), the Cajun spice mix you made, some extra thyme, cayenne, and bay leaf. Mix to combine everything. If your household likes a spicy jambalaya, you can add more cayenne pepper. I recommend adding the minimum amount first then building up later on.
All you have to do now is turn the heat down, put the lid on, and let it simmer gently for about 25 minutes. This is how long it took my rice to cook through. Remember to stir the rice occasionally in between to prevent it from sticking and burning at the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, make your cornbread. It’s a very basic and quick recipe, where you just mix together all the dry ingredients in one large bowl, then mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir everything to combine. Make sure you don’t overmix this so the cornbread doesn’t become tough. Mix just until the dry ingredients are all moistened.
Transfer to your greased pan and bake for about 20 minutes. I actually recommend taking it out when your tester or toothpick comes out with still a few moist crumbs rather than completely clean. We don’t want a dry cornbread, so we don’t want any overbaking to occur.
Going back to the jambalaya, check if the rice is cooked through and tender by giving it a taste. There will still be liquid in the pan, but you’ll notice the rice has absorbed a lot of it already. The rice will soak up all that flavor as it cooks, and it will soak it up even more as it cools, so don’t worry about it too much. Do not keep cooking to reduce the liquid or else your rice will get soggy.
At this stage, it’s time to add the okra and shrimp since they cook really fast. They also look really nice as sort of the toppings for the jambalaya, so I don’t stir them in too much. I like to put the lid back on so that the heat trapped inside can help cook the okra and shrimp. After a few minutes, give the jambalaya a taste. I added more salt to mine and a touch of pepper to perfect the taste. You can also adjust your other spices according to your preference. You must always season to taste at this stage!
Take the rice off the heat and serve. You will notice that the moment it’s off the heat, the liquid will begin evaporating. Amazingly enough, because we didn’t overcook the rice, it becomes a little sticky, very juicy, and each grain is just bursting with that cajun spice flavor. You can serve this with some hot sauce or more cayenne pepper on the side so people can just add more heat to their jambalaya if they want. The measurements I used here will give your jambalaya a pleasant kick that I think most people will be able to tolerate. Adjust to your personal preference, as always!
If you prep everything beforehand, you can actually get the cornbread and the jambalaya to finish cooking around the same time. Warm cornbread served with the hot jambalaya is actually like soul food. The combination, while not a common one to local tastebuds, is actually really delicious. The Maple Cornbread is only lightly sweet, with prominent corn notes that complement the spice-laden, complexly-flavored jambalaya-style rice.
It’s really hard to describe the flavors of a jambalaya. It’s smoky, with a bit of a kick and some tasty tomato notes. It’s incredibly filling too because you’ve got your veggies and protein all in there with the rice. I appreciate that the jambalaya is a one-pot recipe, and you can probably skip making the cornbread if you don’t want to, but you have to try this combination at least once.
Jambalaya-Inspired Cajun Rice with Maple Cornbread
For the rice
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil or other cooking oil
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 white onion, diced
- 3 small bell peppers, a combination of any color, cored and diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper or siling pangsigang, long green Philippine chili, seeded and sliced*
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium-sized boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin is fine, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 400 grams andouille sausage, thinly sliced into rounds
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 400-gram/14 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
- 1½ cups uncooked white or brown rice, or a combination, washed
- 2 Tablespoons Cajun or Creole spice mix**
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 250 to 450 grams raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 cup thinly-sliced okra
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional garnishes: chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, thinly-sliced green onions, hot sauce
For the cornbread
- 1 cup 120 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 cup 138 grams yellow cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup 227 grams milk, preferably whole but low-fat is okay
- ¼ cup 71 grams maple syrup
- ¼ cup 57 grams butter, melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
Make the rice
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add in the celery, onion, bell peppers, chili pepper, and garlic. Sauté all the vegetables for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and mostly cooked. (They cook more evenly if they're mostly the same size.)
- Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, then stir in the chicken and sausage to combine. Cook for another 5 minutes, just until the chicken is no longer pink but not yet fully cooked.
- Pour in the chicken stock and tomatoes, followed by the rice, Cajun spice, bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne. Stir well to combine everything. It will look like it has a lot of liquid but all of that will get absorbed later on.
- At this point, reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, covered, until rice is cooked. It will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir the rice occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan each time you do so the rice that may have settle there doesn’t burn.
Meanwhile, make the cornbread
- Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C) and place the oven rack in the middle. Lightly grease an 8" x 8" square or 9" round baking pan.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly combined. In a separate large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, cooled melted butter, and eggs.
- Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Use a spatula to stir just until the dry mixture is evenly moistened. Do not overmix! The batter will look thin and lumpy.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and even out the surface as necessary. Bake the cornbread for about 20 to 25 minutes, until it's lightly browned and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Do not overbake! Leave to cool slightly, but it’s best served warm.
- Check if the rice is cooked at the 25-minute mark by giving it a taste. There will still look to be a lot of liquid in the pan, but this is normal. Once the rice is tender and cooked, add in the shrimp and okra. I like to mix them in with the rice just a little but let them stay mostly on the top, then cover for a few minutes. The heat trapped inside will cook them through. The rice would have absorbed most of the liquid at this point, but rather than being soggy, the rice should be deliciously sticky and just tender. Resist the urge to keep cooking until the liquid is all gone or else you'll overcook the rice. Trust me, the rice will keep soaking it up once it's off the heat.
- If you can spot the bay leaf, remove it, then season the jambalaya with salt and pepper to taste. (I like to add a touch more salt than pepper since the seasoning I used is homemade and therefore not salty.) Remove from heat and top with desired garnish. Serve with warm cornbread and additional hot sauce on the side, for those who like their jambalaya with extra kick.
- Leftover jambalaya can be reheated on the stovetop while cornbread can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature.
**To make a homemade Cajun seasoning mix, simply mix together 1½ Tablespoons paprika, 1 Tablespoon EACH fine sea salt and garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon dried thyme, 1½ teaspoons EACH black pepper, white pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano (whole leaves or ground is fine). This will yield about 6 Tablespoons of seasoning.
Jambalaya adapted from Gimme Some Oven; Maple Cornbread adapted from King Arthur Flour
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