Jambalaya or Gumbo
While the food in Louisiana is spectacular, the two most arguably famous dishes must be Jambalaya (Jam-ba-lie-ya) and Gumbo (Gum-bow). Now you really can’t say one is “better than the other” as they are both amazing!
Jambalaya is the kindred culinary cousin of Spanish Paella. Jambalaya typically consists of three stages – meat and vegetables, stock and then rice. For authentic Jambalaya you have two primary styles to choose from either Creole, also called “red jambalaya” (which includes tomatoes) or Cajun (no tomatoes allowed).
One pot Creole jambalaya starts with the meat which is typically chicken and sausage. The sausage is usually Andouille (an-do-eee) or smoked sausage. Next up is the holy trinity of N’awlins vegetables, roughly 50% onions, 25% green bell peppers and 25% celery. Once the vegetables are translucent the tomatoes and seafood are then added. The seafood is some combination (or even all) of crabmeat, crawfish, firm-fleshed fish fillets cut into bite-sized pieces, shrimp and oysters. Towards the end of the cooking process stock (fish, chicken or vegetable) and rice are added. The rice is cooked in this pot.
Cajun style jambalaya also includes the holy trinity of vegetables (but no tomatoes). The meat choices are the similar but may also include alligator, duck, turtle and venison. The meat is typically cooked first in a cast iron pot so that the meat browns and sticks to the bottom of the pot. The meat is then removed from the pot and the vegetables are added and sautéed until soft. The meat, stock and seasonings are then added back to the pot and rice is added towards the end of the cooking process. Cajun jambalaya tends to be a bit spicier.
Jambalayas are ideally suited for fusion experimentation. A variety of meats, stock and spices can truly make it your own. But don’t stray too far from the standard vegetables and rice otherwise it isn’t really a jambalaya it becomes more like a stew.
Gumbo is more like a soup that is served over a small serving of rice (unlike Jambalaya the rice is not cooked in the same pan) and is believed to have originated in New Orleans in the 18th century. Like Jambalaya, there are subtle Cajun and Creole differences. This dish also draws on many different cultures including French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw. No matter which version you prefer they all have a thickener, a roux.
Much of the flavor of the gumbo comes from the rich stock as it pairs with the chosen meat of the gumbo. For seafood gumbo use a well-prepared seafood stock, for chicken gumbo a flavorful chicken stock. Don’t skimp on this step as it is the key to a flavorful gumbo. The best stocks are made from scratch.
The base of the best Cajun gumbos is the roux which is a mixture of oil and flour. Some believe the ideal mix is 1 to 1 and others ¾ cup oil to 1 cup flour. You’ll have to experiment to get your perfect roux. The roux is mixed and cooked in a cast iron pot until brown (the color and texture are like a creamy peanut butter). Some prefer their roux to be a bit lighter in color and some a bit darker. Roux needs to be cooked slow and easy and should take 25 to 40 minutes with frequent stirring. Creole gumbo tends to use file powder as its thickener while African style gumbo uses okra as the thickener. A traditional Louisiana gumbo would never mix any of the three thickening agents.
All versions use the holy trinity of New Orleans vegetables. Arguably the two most popular meat combinations for gumbo are chicken and andouille sausage or a seafood gumbo with shrimp, crabmeat and andouille sausage. Except for sausage and occasionally ham, you’ll never find pork or beef used in a gumbo.
So which one is better? That really depends on the judge (that would be you). Both have their fans and both are delicious.
Not only is this blend incredible on Seafood, it’s delicious on wings, Baked Potatoes, French Fries, Popcorn, Corn on the Cobb, Potato Salad and is the secret ingredient for a fabulous Bloody Mary