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Happy Mardi Gras, and a family secret…


A good jambalaya recipe is worth its weight in gold. And if you’ve had it made by several different people, you’ll find there are variations in the flavors and ingredients…just like the people who make it.

I had planned to do a series of posts on all the good things of Mardi Gras for you this week, but I blinked, and now that week is gone! Instead, I’m going to treat you to one recipe that is a family classic. For those of you  just joining my blog, my father’s side of the family is all from the Southeast Louisiana area where beads, king cake, and general revelry abound this time of year. In fact, that’s my dad’s twin sister, Aunt Phyllis, above as queen of the parade at a long forgotten party during Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras is a week (or more) of excess before the beginning of lent on Ash Wednesday. I remember when I lived in Louisiana we actually got off of school for Mardi Gras! Never mind pesky snow days, we got off school to go holler “Throw me some beads, mister!!” Likely much more fun than having cold, wet feet after mucking around in that white stuff.

My grandfather’s original jambalaya recipe used to serve 40 people, and serve he did for many a party on the bayous of Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish. This version serves about 8, and still stands up to a good party. It’s pretty fabulous, and one of my favorites. And previously unpublished for the greater good until this moment–giving up the family secrets here!

Cajun cooking is much more than throwing in hot sauce, as you’ll find if you ever have truly good cajun food. It’s all about the complex flavors from homemade stocks and a variety of seasonings. Our always usually takes the better part of a day to cook up.

So this Mardi Gras, go out, eat well, and as they say in the crescent city, laissez les bon temps rouler!

Grandpa Leatherbury's Jambalaya

Yield: Serves 10
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Notes: The original recipe for this dish originated with my Grandpa Leatherbury when he used to make it for 40+ people at local festivals in Lacombe, Louisiana. The key to a truly excellent Jambalaya is the stock—and we always make our own. Make poultry stock by boiling chicken or turkey bones with a bit of onion and celery for an hour or so. We often substitute a cup of the chicken stock with ham stock made from boiled ham hocks to add a deeper, more complex flavor to the jambalaya. 

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 lbs. chicken
  • 1.5 lbs. smoked sausage or andouille sausage
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • ¼ chopped bell pepper
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 toes garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups washed, uncooked rice
  • 3 cups water

Instructions

  1. Place chicken in large stock pot with an onion, and celery. Vegetables are optional here, but it is a good way to make a stock to cook the jambalaya with later on in the recipe. Add water to the pot until it covers the chicken. Turn heat on high until water boils, then reduce to medium, or a gentle boil. Boil for 60 to 90 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Be sure to save the cooking water for the chicken stock used later in the recipe. Debone the chicken once cooked.
  2. Sauté the sausage (ideally in a cast iron pan) and remove from pan when cooked through. Add chopped onions, celery, pepper and garlic (the “trinity”) to the oil left from the sausage and sauté until onions are light yellow.
  3. In large stockpot, add chicken, sausage, sautéed vegetables and all remaining ingredients except rice. Add 3 cups water to pot. Cook for 10 minutes on medium high heat, bringing mixture to a low boil. 
  4. Add washed rice. Cook covered over low heat until rice is tender and jambalaya is just moist. Your cook time may vary, check rice frequently.

Notes

Each person in my family is known to tinker with this recipe as they are cooking. Sometimes we're out of something or have an ingredient we need to get rid of so we throw it in the pot.

We also like to tinker with flavors. My dad is know to throw in Kitchen Bouquet for a smokey flavor and we all liberally add Tony Chachere's seasoning to the top. My aunts like to add a dash of liquid crab boil to the mix when cooking the rice. I myself measure garlic with my heart and don't pay much attention to the instructions. By nature, jambalaya is flexible, so feel free to experiment!

Easy Mardi Gras Centerpiece - Frog Prince Paperie

Friday 19th of January 2018

[…] Gras season, y’all! Set your table with this easy Mardi Gras centerpiece, get out your best Jambalaya recipe, and whip up a king […]

Coryanne Ettiene

Tuesday 29th of January 2013

Paula, I love everything about this post, thank you for sharing your family recipe history with us and for giving us the opportunity to keep that tradition alive in our kitchens!

Dan Chrisman

Wednesday 30th of March 2011

The family recipe is now PUBLIC DOMAIN???

Eric Leatherbury

Friday 11th of March 2011

This is more of the simplified version, for better results be sure to use ham stock (save those spiral-cut ham bones!). Given the variability in the potency of herbs and spices, be sure to check the liquid base frequently. Before the rice is added it will be quite powerful, but worry not! After the rice cooks up it will mellow things out a bit.

Cecelia Todd

Tuesday 8th of March 2011

Oh...my...goodness...this recipe is absolutely delicious!!! I made it today for my husband and some friends and everyone LOVED it! It turned out PERFECT! What a great dinner for "Fat Tuesday". Thanks Paula for sharing this family secret :)

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