Jambalaya is one of the classic Louisiana dishes that reflects the state’s diverse and long (by American standards) history. The dish features shrimp or crawfish along with meat in the form of andouille sausage, chicken, or pork. Multiple meats may be used. There are two varieties of jambalaya in Louisiana: the Creole version that uses tomatoes and the Cajun version that is tomato-free. Spices are essential for both versions. The best spices for jambalaya include:
One of the most versatile seasonings in the world, onion is one of the key flavors in both the Creole and Cajun forms of jambalaya. It makes up one of the trinity of seasonings that form the backbone of many savory dishes from Louisiana. Cooked down in jambalaya, onions add an essential umami character along with a little sweetness that complements the other seasonings in the dish.
Celery brings a herbaceous, highly aromatic, and brothy character to jambalaya. It is a key part of the meaty depth that the dish has when appropriately cooked. Celery is the second member of the trio of seasonings that are cooked down and used as the foundation of Louisiana cooking.
Creole seasoning is a spice blend that originated in Louisiana, and that had its flavor profile and ingredients influenced over centuries. Creole seasoning is associated with New Orleans specifically and the wealthy settlers who lived there early in its history. It was influenced by their African American cooks as well as the settlers’ European roots. Creole seasoning includes thyme and oregano along with garlic and paprika. Some versions may also contain cayenne pepper and basil.
Cajun seasoning is another iconic Louisiana spice blend. It is similar to Creole seasoning (especially to outsiders), but its roots lie in rural Louisiana as opposed to the wealthy aristocrats in the big city. Cajun seasoning represents the flavors used by French people deported from Canada to Louisiana and who combined their French cooking style with the local ingredients. The spices in a Cajun seasoning blend can vary but will typically include garlic, black pepper, and oregano.
The sauce that we now know as Worcestershire sauce began as an attempt by English chemists to replicate Indian flavors for a client. While they may have failed in that respect, they would up with one of the world’s most popular seasonings. Worcestershire sauce is an excellent ingredient for adding instant complexity and umami to any savory dish, including jambalaya.
The bay laurel tree is the source of bay leaves, which are popular around the world for seasoning dishes that braise for a long time. Only after being cooked extensively does the bay leaf release its savory and slightly bitter camphoraceous flavor profile into a broth, gravy, or sauce. As with many herbs, a little bay leaf goes a long way. Remember to remove them before the dish is served, or they may present a choking hazard.