You simply can’t go wrong with delicious Cajun food and Cajun-type dishes. Does it make your mouth water just thinking about those delightfully flavorful dishes? Or maybe you prefer the subtle flavor of Spanish dishes that seem to perfectly pronounce seasonings and make your taste buds rejoice.
Many times you stumble upon dishes that are created very similarly but satisfy totally different palettes. While they look very similar they are actually very unique. Jambalaya and paella are two such dishes. To the untrained eye, you might think these dishes are the same thing but they aren’t!
What is the difference between jambalaya and paella? For starters, jambalaya is a Cajun-based dish from Louisiana while paella is a Spanish rice dish. These dishes are made quite differently, particularly with varying spices that greatly alter the overall end results of them.
In this guide, we will talk about the differences between jambalaya and paella in a detailed manner. Our hope is that by the end, you fully understand these dishes on a stand-alone basis. We will start by reviewing each dish individually and then summarize them in a quick overview.
Keep reading to learn about all things jambalaya and paella.
Your Guide to Jambalaya and Paella
When it comes to making just the right dish, it’s important to understand just what sets a dish apart. It seems every dish has something that makes it stand out compared to other dishes. Across the board, there are numerous dishes that are comparable to other dishes but a unique twist sets them apart.
Then, there are dishes that are incredibly unique and simply can’t be matched or compared to many other things – think Beef Wellington and dishes of that nature. The best thing is, you can personalize just about any dish.
Jambalaya and paella are two such dishes. They might be very similar to some but they are quite unique in their own way.
We’re going to discuss each one individually and then we will round out a quick overview to review how these two dishes are different.
Jambalaya is a Cajun-style dish. You might also hear it described as creole, these are very similar in nature. This dish comes from Louisiana and takes on a smattering of Spanish, French, and even West African cultural identities.
Jambalaya is a variation of meats mixed with rice. You can choose any meat you like but almost any jambalaya dish you find will contain some type of sausage, with smoked sausage being the most common form.
Jambalaya might also include pork or chicken. You might even see seafood, particularly crawfish and shrimp, although these are less common in the traditional jambalaya dish. As with most dishes, you can choose what you like – it’s the seasoning that is really going to set your jambalaya apart.
In addition to the meat, jambalaya contains some veggies as well. Onion, celery, and green bell pepper are the traditional vegetables to add to jambalaya though you might also commonly find carrots, okra, tomatoes, and garlic or even chilies. All of this comes together with rice.
Jambalaya is then enhanced with heart seasonings that have bold flavors. You might recognize seasonings like cumin and cayenne pepper.
Jambalaya is actually much more similar to gumbo than it is to paella. However, jambalaya and gumbo are still quite different as well.
How to Make Jambalaya
To give you a good overview of the dish, we thought it might be helpful to share a quick overview of how jambalaya is made. This is a basic traditional recipe but keep in mind that you can easily change things up.
This is meant simply to provide you with a basic reference of how the dish is made.
- You will need olive oil, andouille sausage, onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, white rice, chicken, shrimp, paprika, thyme, cayenne pepper, and cumin. Remember that you can adjust the meats and veggies slightly based on your preferences.
- Your chicken will need to be cooked prior to starting this dish. Start by browning your sausage in olive oil. Then set it aside. Leaving the oil in the pan, sauté your veggies for about 6-7 minutes. Your garlic only needs to be added for about 1 minute at the end.
- Add liquid items if you are using chicken broth or tomatoes of any kind. This is also where you will add your seasonings. In this recipe, that means your paprika, thyme, cayenne pepper, and cumin. You will also want some salt and pepper to taste.
- Add cooked sausage and rice. Bring mixture to a boil over medium or high heat. Reduce your heat, cover and simmer about 20-25 minutes. Everything should be fairly tender. You can add additional broth if needed.
- Stir in shrimp and cover to simmer an additional 5 minutes. Then stir in chicken and let cook another 5 minutes.
Jambalaya is fairly simple to make. The overall process will most likely take about 45 minutes when you include prep time. You don’t really need any accompanying sides or dishes with jambalaya but it is commonly paired with cornbread.
For a more gourmet version of cajun jambalaya, check out this entertaining recipe tutorial with Isaac Toups with Munchies on YouTube!
Paella is a Spanish dish. It is considered a rice dish, which means rice is the base of the dish and then other things are added to supplement the rice with flavor and deliciousness. Paella is so popular in Spanish culture that it is often referred to as their national dish.
Traditionally, paella is cooked in a wide shallow pan over an open fire. Now, it is commonly made in a frying pan on the stove.
Paella typically contains round grain rice, green beans, rabbit, chicken, duck, and lima beans. Sometimes, you will find artichoke hearts and stems as well as possibly snail in paella.
Paella is seasoned with saffron and rosemary primarily with a few other mild seasonings. In current renditions of the dish, you might find garlic, sweet red pepper, and different meats than the traditional creation.
It has become very common to add shrimp and seafood to paella. This is because there are multiple renditions of the dish from Paella Valenciana, Paella de Marisco, and Paella Mixta. These 3 variations alone have a lot of differences.
How to Make Paella
To give you a quick reference, we are sharing an overview of how paella is made. Keep in mind, this is purely for reference. There are several forms of paella and several ways to personalize it as well.
- You will need fresh parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic cloves, saffron, rosemary, and salt and pepper for spicing. You will also need water, chicken broth, shrimp, chicken, chorizo, onion, bell pepper, peas, rice, and any other addition of your choice.
- Start by combining your parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic cloves, salt and pepper and set it aside.
- Combine water and broth in a large pan and bring to a low simmer (you don’t want to boil). Keep this warm on low heat.
- In a frying (or paella) pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté it. Add sausage and sauté, then add your shrimp and sauté it as well. Remove meats from the pan.
- Now sauté onion and bell pepper. Add tomatoes and garlic as well as saffron and rosemary and garlic cloves. Cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add rice and cook for about 1 minute, stirring the entire time.
- Add in broth mixture and herbs from step 2. Add meats and peas (or other vegetables).
- Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
- Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes.
We couldn’t include a jambalaya recipe video without including a paella video too! Here’s Omar Allibhoy’s Spanish paella recipe on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel.
As you can see from the details shared here, paella and jambalaya do contain similar ingredients but they are overall very different.
They come from different cultural backgrounds and while both are made with some of the same meats as well as rice and both are made on the stovetop, they are vastly different from there.
Jambalaya is seasoned with bold creole or Cajun-based seasonings. With jambalaya, you almost always have andouille sausage as well as chicken and possibly shrimp. There’s a good array of vegetables as well.
Paella, on the other hand, has multiple variations, some include seafood while others have odd things like duck or rabbit. You will notice that seafood paella is the most common type of paella served today. The flavors are subtler with rosemary and saffron as the primary spices.
We hope you find this guide to jambalaya and paella to be an informative resource for differentiating these dishes.
We invite you to review our question and answer section for some additional information.
What is the Best Rice for Paella?
We recommend using Arroz Redonda if you can find it. This is round rice that will be most traditional. However, any short grain rice will do as well.
What Makes a Good Appetizer for Jambalaya or Paella?
Both of these dishes can make an entire meal on their own. However, you can always add a salad or a bread side if you need a little something else to it.