Orzo Jambalaya with Lemon-Scented Shrimp

Jambalaya is the first "grown up" dish I ever made, attempted, in earnest, at the tender age of 12. I really didn't know what I was doing, as I had only halfway paid attention the couple of times I saw it prepared, so my proportions and timing were way off.  I remember with a kind of off-kilter nostalgia the distinct smell of burning rice (which I subsequently still cooked to mush), rubbery shrimp, and under cooked chicken. It was a total disaster.  But I tried and tried again until I got it right, after properly consulting folk privy to the science of jambalaya-making.

Well, as much as I love my rice and all things toasted rice, I actually found that I had run clean out on the night I had planned to make jambalaya for a whole bunch of people and had no time to go to the store (or to even make gumbo).  I almost changed up the menu until I spied two boxes of orzo in my cupboard.  

Using almost exactly the same method I use for rice, I made my jambalaya with orzo and I daresay, it is damn good.  The orzo did not mush and stayed lovely and firm, bathing in the rich sauce.  It was a HIT, especially amongst the closeted rice-haters who had never bothered to tell me about their aversion until that evening.

This rich and flavorful jambalaya features toasted orzo simmered in an Andouille-spiked pepperonata, crisp blackened chicken, and shrimp bathed in garlic and preserved lemons.  I used my paella pan, but you can also use a large heavy bottom pot or dutch oven.  This recipe will feed 4-6 hungry people, or a bunch of folks huddled over the pan with spoons.


4 tablespoons olive oil

2 andouille sausages (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise and cut into ½ inch slices

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 medium green pepper, seeded, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 medium red pepper, seeded, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

15 oz. whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juice reserved

2 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1 bay leaf (preferably fresh)

4 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs

2 teaspoons fine kosher salt

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground thyme

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne

1 pound orzo

1 pound large fresh, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon minced preserved lemons

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

2 teaspoons pressed or minced fresh garlic

1 tablespoon ground sumac

Water (as needed)

To finish:

Chopped fresh parsley

Lemon wedges


1.     Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.     In a large, heavy bottom pot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the andouille sausage.  Saute the sausage until it is browned and sizzling.  Remove from the pot and set on a plate.

3.    Add the smashed garlic cloves and stir for about 1 minute.  Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the green, red, and yellow peppers and saute for another 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juice, then the chicken broth.  Add the thyme leaves and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, then partially cover and lower to a lazy simmer.

4.     Sprinkle the chicken thighs with the salt.  Combine the paprika, ground thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  Season the chicken generously with this spice mix.

5.     Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a cast iron, steel, or other heavy, oven safe skillet over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot but not smoking, place the chicken skin-down in a single layer. (Turn on your oven fan!)  Sear the chicken until the skin is crisp and deep brown, about 8 minutes.  Turn the chicken over and place the pan in the oven.  Let the chicken roast while you prepare the orzo, about 15 minutes.

6.     Now, get out your paella pan.  Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan over medium high heat.  When it shimmers, add the dry orzo to the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula until it is coated all over with oil and is slightly browned.

7.  Remove the bay leaf from the tomato and pepper sauce.  Pour all of the pepper and tomato sauce into the paella pan with the orzo and 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. 

8.  Remove the chicken from the oven. Pour the juices from the chicken into the orzo.  Place the orzo in the oven covered loosely with foil and lower the temperature to 350F. Cook for 18-20 minutes, until the orzo is tender but al dente, adding water as needed to keep the orzo from drying out.

9.  While the orzo is cooking, toss the shrimp with the preserved lemon, pressed or minced garlic, and minced parsley.  Set aside.

10. About halfway through the orzo’s cooking, remove it from the oven and embed the shrimp throughout the jambalaya, sprinkle the other half of the browned andouille, and place the chicken thighs around the pan.  Return to the oven to finish cooking.

11.  The jambalaya is finished when the shrimp is pink and the orzo is al dente.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the sumac to taste.

12.  Serve with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.