Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

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Hello COVID-19. You are an interesting creature.

I’ve been hiding out in my house, working from home, making sure my husband (also working from home) understands that it’s not cool to blast rock music while coding, and reminding my son that PE homework should be done outside, not upstairs. These are unusual times to say the least.

The only time I have gone out is to grocery shop (and a couple walks where I socially distanced myself from everyone else), which is an adventure in itself. I’m very organized or try to be. Chaos is not my friend. I’m a list maker so of course I make grocery lists. I plan out our meals for the week, add the ingredients to the list, and follow the list religiously at the grocery.

So imagine a world where I have no idea if my ingredients are actually at the store. Oh, first world problems! But I’ve adapted. No dried lentils so I bought canned, which goes into the soup at the last minute instead at the beginning. Easy peasy. I’m not sure how your grocery store is, but I’ve been fortunate enough to buy meat, eggs, and milk. Except for bread and dried beans, food staples have been plentiful (let’s not speak of toilet paper). I thought about making some bread, but all the flour was gone. Then there were no SunChips. Really people?! Just leave me some coffee and everything will be okay.

I’ve been reading a variety of articles about substituting ingredients. Today I want to share a recipe with you that hopefully you can make without any substitutes, but it’s easy enough to sub out stuff.

I love jambalaya because it’s so uniquely Louisianan with its mesh of French, Spanish, and West African influences. This regional dish reminds me of what makes Louisiana magical. A blend of flavors, architecture, celebration, history, mystery, and nature. New Orleans. French Quarter. Shot gun houses. The deep South. Cajuns. Creoles. Mardi Gras. Bayous. I’m not doing it justice. It’s just so different from my California home that it fascinates me.

Although there are different types of jambalaya, we can mainly agree that it consists of rice with sausage or smoked meat with chicken or shrimp. The dish came out of a need to substitute what the French, Spanish, and Africans immigrants could not find in their new home, and instead, to use what they did have. Sort of like us right now. The Creoles in New Orleans had access to tomatoes so their version of jambalaya is tomato-based to make up for the lack of saffron. The Cajuns, who lived in the rural country near the bayou had access to shrimp, crawfish, duck, and many other critters we might not eat (ummm…alligator…tastes like chicken?), used whatever meats they had on hand.

This recipe from the Food Network is more Creole than Cajun because it uses tomatoes, and consists of a combination of ham and shrimp. If you can’t find those meats because your town is full of ham and shrimp hoarders, use chicken, sausage, turkey, ground beef, pork, really anything you like and can find. As far as vegetables, the base contains onions and peppers, but you can sub out with carrots or celery. You can even get creative and try leeks, shallots, asparagus, etc.

Chop up your vegetables. I like to make lengthwise cuts to nearly the end of the pepper and then slice across for even squares.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Heat up some oil in a Dutch oven or large pot, and throw in your veggies along with some garlic. I love the colors.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

If your grocery store was pillaged of ham, and you are substituting raw meat, except for shrimp, brown it with the veggies.

Next, toss in everything else except the rice and shrimp. Seasonings, tomatoes, ham, and broth. See how easy this is?

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

I made this jambalaya tame with just an 1/8 of a teaspoon, but feel free to throw more cayenne pepper. The original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon. If you’re feeling cautious now, you can add hot sauce at the end.

After bringing it to a boil, add rice. When the rice is done, throw in your shrimp. Shrimp cooks very quickly so no need to pre-cook.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Your apocalyptic meal is complete.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Servings 4


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper up to 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 ounces smoked ham diced
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 14 1/2 ounces no-salt added diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • hot pepper sauce


  • Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, peppers, and garlic. Saute until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. If you are using raw meat instead of ham, saute meat with vegetables until cooked.
  • Mix in the next 11 ingredients, salt through the diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until rice is done and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Add the shrimp and cook, covered, for 5 minutes more, or until shrimp is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with hot pepper sauce.
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