A delicious melting pot recipe that puts a Midwestern spin on a Louisiana Creole favorite, Wisconsin Style Jambalaya is packed full of tender chicken, shrimp, and regional sausage from America’s dairyland.
Creole jambalaya, otherwise known as red jambalaya, has roots in African, French, and Spanish cuisine, all by way of Louisiana. So I thought I’d go one step further and make this rice-based dish with something special from my home state of Wisconsin.
Because so many people like to make jambalaya with kielbasa sausage instead of Andouille, I decided to get a little wild and use CheddarWurst®, a fabulous Wisconsin sausage that’s made with (as you might imagine) cheddar cheese laced throughout the links. You've got to try it, and once you do, you'll fall in love.
While you may take the girl out of Wisconsin, you just can’t take Wisconsin out of the girl! I come from the land of cheese curds and butter; our state beverage is milk.
Is this Wisconsin Style Jambalaya recipe authentic? Considering that jambalaya is one of the original fusion foods, I think it’s okay to improvise if you can’t get down to the Big Easy. Cheesy switch-up and all, I think it comes pretty close.
I’ll let you be the judge.
Looking to make Wisconsin Style Jambalaya for 50? Get a big jambalaya pot ready! Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What is the origin of Jambalaya?
Creole jambalaya dates from the 1800s, and comes straight from the French Quarter of New Orleans. Spanish cooks wanted to make paella, but couldn’t afford the steep prices of saffron, so they added tomatoes to the rice instead.
Unlike Cajun jambalaya, which didn’t ever use tomatoes, this new version was loved for its punchy flavor and its flexibility of ingredients.
What is Jambalaya?
I’ll admit, it’s tricky tell the difference between jambalaya and other traditional New Orleans food, especially for someone who was born and raised in Wisconsin. Is jambalaya a soup? Not exactly, but some folks like a more liquid mixture that eats like a stew. Is jambalaya spicy? It can be, depending on what spice you add to it. But heat is not required.
To better understand jambalaya, it helps to compare it to other similar recipes:
Jambalaya vs. étouffée: Étouffée is a complex stew which always includes shellfish like shrimp or crayfish, but does not have the sausage. In contrast, jambalaya with sausage is common. Also, rice is added while cooking jambalaya, while étouffée is served with rice on the side.
Jambalaya vs. gumbo: Gumbo is usually a more complicated roux-thickened stew, more like a soup, typically containing either poultry and sausage or seafood, as well as filé powder and okra. Gumbo is also served over a bed of rice. Jambalaya is easy to make and is more rice-based than soup.
Jambalaya vs. paella: Jambalaya and paella are very closely related. Paella is a Spanish dish that’s cooked in a wide, shallow pan with a healthy pinch of saffron. The main differences between the two lie in the meats and spices.
So, what is in Jambalaya, exactly?
To make Wisconsin-Style jambalaya, you will need:
- The Cajun/Creole “holy trinity”: It just wouldn’t be jambalaya, or any authentic Louisiana recipe without it. Onion, celery, and bell pepper.
- Cayenne pepper and tabasco sauce: To make things spicy. I’m less tolerant of spice than I want to be, so feel free to add more or less of either, depending on your preference.
- Bay leaf, garlic, and thyme: Three of my favorite spices.
- Cooked Chicken: Any kind of cooked chicken, either dark or white meat. Leftover rotisserie chicken works great. Gently poaching chicken is an easy way to pre-cook chicken for jambalaya.
- Shrimp: I use raw shrimp in jambalaya, because cooked shrimp get tough and rubbery when they go through a second cooking. Don’t worry—shrimp cook really fast!
- Hillshire Farm CheddarWurst® Sausage: My secret ingredient. Typically sold in a pack of links, this sausage is what puts the Wisconsin in the jambalaya. It tastes a lot like a Polish sausage, but has little, wonderful bits of cheese running throughout.
I keep the cheese in the sausage contained by cooking the links whole and slicing them up into bite-sized pieces that get added to the jambalaya when I’m ready to serve.
- Chicken Stock: If the rice needs more liquid as it cooks, feel free to add in more.
- Lager or Beer: Wisconsinites love their beer, most likely because Milwaukee is full of German immigrants. Schlitz beer was started here – “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.” So let’s add a cold one to the pot! Cook the rice in beer to keep things interesting and flavorful. If you don’t keep beer on hand you can find singles in many grocery stores (Note: It will probably be an oversized can).
- Crushed Tomatoes: For Creole flavor.
- White Rice: Long grain works best, but medium or short grain white rice is fine, too.
- Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper: Taste the jambalaya as you go, and adjust the seasonings accordingly.
How to Make Jambalaya in an Instant Pot:
An electric pressure cooker is so fun to use, and makes great dinners! There's a few things to do differently, but here's how to IP Jambalaya:
- Turn the Instant Pot to the 'sauté' setting and add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the whole links of CheddarWurst® sausage and cook them until browned. Transfer them to a paper towel–lined plate.
- Add a little more oil to the pot, and then add the onion, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. You don’t need to sauté the veggies for long–just a minute or so.
- Add the the spices and rice and stir to combine. Then add the diced tomatoes, chicken stock, beer and some salt.
- Cook on Manual High Pressure for 5 minutes, with a 5 minutes natural release. Fluff the rice with a fork and add the chicken and shrimp. Mix well.
- Return the lid to let the rice rest in the residual heat for another 5 minutes, then slice the sausages and return to the jambalaya. Give everything a gentle stir and serve.
Wisconsin-Style Jambalaya Recipe
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 3 stalks celery finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper diced (about 1 cup)
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes and juice undrained
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
- 12 ounces lager or beer
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken
- 1/2 pounds medium raw shrimp thawed and tails removed
- 14 ounces Hillshire Farm CheddarWurst®
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Tabasco sauce, for serving (optional)
- Heat olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery, and bell peppers and cook until softened, 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add, diced tomatoes and juice, broth, rice, lager, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chicken, shrimp, and CheddarWurst®. Cover and simmer 5 to 10 minutes longer, until chicken, shrimp, and sausage are heated through and rice is softened.
- Remove CheddarWurst® and slice; return to pot. Remove and discard bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Tabasco sauce.