Jambalaya is a rice dish that can contain, but is not limited to, seafood, chicken, sausage, beer, tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic or anything else that can be found that needs cooking. It has origins in both African and Spanish culinary traditions. These two traditions have contributed to two different kinds of jambalaya: brown and red. The color of jambalaya is created as the rice absorbs the ingredients from the cooking liquid. In New Orleans jambalaya is often red because of the presence of tomatoes, a regular ingredient in Creole cuisine. The origin of New Orleans jambalaya is possibly Jollof rice, a West African dish. Many of the slaves that lived in New Orleans came from West Africa and would have been familiar with the dish of Jollof rice. Like jambalaya, Jollof rice was traditionally made from whatever ingredients were handy, however tomatoes are always present in its preparation.
Another source of jambalaya is Spanish paella. Louisiana was under Spanish rule from 1762-1802. During this time, a group of Spaniards settled in what was called Galveztown, near what is now Gonzalez, self-proclaimed Jambalaya Capital of the World. These Spaniards would have brought with them the tradition of preparing paella, a Spanish rice dish that often includes seafood or chicken or meat. All of the ingredients are prepared in a paella pan, a heavy pan similar to the cast iron pans still used today to prepare jambalaya. When cooking jambalaya, generally the meats are browned in the cast iron pot before the rest of the ingredients are added, creating what is known as the Maillard effect. This searing, and the consequent cooking in an iron pot that can sustain high temperatures, enhances the caramelization of natural sugars in meat and vegetables. The resulting brown coloring is absorbed by the rice in the cooking process and unlike Creole jambalaya, this color is not masked by the red of the tomatoes.