Gumbo vs Jambalaya: What’s the Difference
New Orleans is definitely a state like no other, with its own unique language, the famous Mardi Gras, and the huge European influence in its culture. Even the humidity sets it apart. While the famous jazz musicians and the wild Mardi Gras season draw many visitors, another reason to visit is its unique cuisine. It has been inspired by various other cuisines, like English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, African, and Native American.
Basically, the populations that have called this state home since being established in 1718 have left their mark through the food. This has led to the popular Cajun and Creole dishes that many crave about. Of all of these delicious meals, the most loved are, without a doubt, Jambalaya and Gumbo.
For the newbies and outsiders, it is tough to differentiate between the two, nor to say one is better than the other. All you can do is to try both out and enjoy their unique flavors.
What Is Jambalaya?
To explain it simply, jambalaya is like a cousin of Spain’s paella. This means, cooking this dish has 3 stages. The first being cooking the meat and the vegetables, then adding the stock, before ending with the rice. The authentic jambalaya has 2 basic styles that have one simple difference. The Creole version, which is also called red jambalaya, has tomatoes while Cajun disheshave no tomatoes.
The best thing about jambalaya is that it can be tweaked in many different ways. You can use a wide variety of meat, spices, and stock to create your favorite version. However, the vegetables should not change too much from the usual favorites in New Orleans foodor it might turn into a stew instead of jambalaya. Naturally, rice is also a must-have.
- Creole Jambalaya
Creole jambalaya is also a one-pot dish, wherein you start cooking the meat. The most commonly used is chicken and sausage (normally Andouille or smoked sausage). Up next are the vegetables, which in New Orleans means about 50% onions, and the other 50% divided between celery and green bell peppers. They are cooked until translucent.
The next step of this dish is to add the tomatoes and seafood (which may include shrimp, crabmeat, oysters, crawfish, and firm fish fillets in bite-sized pieces). Give them some time to cook before you add the stock, whether chicken, vegetable, or fish. Lastly, the rice is added until it is cooked perfectly.
- Cajun Jambalaya
Beyond the lack of tomatoes, this version is quite similar to the Creole version. First of all, the meat may be the same, but cooks might add some “exotic“ meat like duck, alligator, venison, or turtle. They are usually cooked in a cast-iron pot until they turn brown and start to stick to the bottom. They are also removed from the pot when they are done.
The next step is to add the vegetables (the same veggies as Creole without the tomatoes) to the same cast iron pot and saute until they become soft. Afterward, the meat is put back, along with the stock and the spices to cook before the rice is added. The spices added to this dish means the Cajun version is the spicier version of the two.
- White Jambalaya
This is a third version that is popular because it is faster to cook compared to the first two. The main difference is that the meat and the vegetables are cooked separately from the rice, which is just cooked in a savory stock. The meat and the vegetables are added to the rice before the dish gets served. This technique led to the name “white jambalaya“.
What Is Gumbo?
While jambalaya has rice that is cooked in the same pan (except for white Jambalaya), gumbo is more like a soup that is served with a serving of rice. The dish is authentic southern food, traced to New Orleans back in the 18th century. Much like jambalaya, there are Creole and Cajun versions. It also has many influences, from Spanish, French, German, Choctaw, and West African. Whatever version you create, it needs a thickener (either okra, roux or file powder).
Moreover, the flavor of the dish is due to the rich stock, which should match with the meat in the dish. This means, for seafood gumbo, you need seafood stock, and for chicken jumbo, a flavorful chicken stock. This is a very important step so you cannot skip this at all. Plus, to get the best and tastiest stock, you should try making it from scratch.
- Cajun Gumbo
What sets this version apart is the base. Cajun gumbo uses a roux, which is a mixture of flour and oil. Some recommend the ratio of 1 to 1 while some would only use ¾ cup of oil for 1 cup of flour. You can experiment on your own until you create your perfect version.
This roux is mixed before being cooked in a cast-iron pot until it turns brown (which should have the same texture and color as peanut butter). It needs to be cooked slowly, about 25 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Creole Gumbo
The only distinction of this version is that it uses file powder as its thickener.
- African-Style Gumbo
The African-style gumbo uses the third option for thickener – okra. A traditional gumbo will stick to one of these 3 thickening agents and will never use a combination.
Whatever kind of gumbo you cook, you will use the same combination of vegetables (onion, green bell pepper, and celery). When it comes to meat, the most common choice is between chicken and andouille sausage or seafood gumbo with crabmeat, shrimp, and andouille sausage. While ham may also be added at times, beef and pork are usually not added to gumbo.
There are quite a few variations to these 2 dishes, and there is no best version because it all depends on the person’s preferences. The great thing about them is that they can be modified (though gumbo has fewer choices) to suit one’s taste. Still, these traditional dishes have been served to millions and are loved by many. Fortunately, you can cook and enjoy them at home as well.