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AHA News: This Meaty Jambalaya Takes the Fat Out of Fat Tuesday

FRIDAY, Feb. 21, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Just because Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” doesn’t mean you have to load up on rich foods to celebrate.

As you prepare for the holiday, consider chicken and ham jambalaya, a healthy twist on the popular Louisiana dish. Instead of sausage, which tends to be high in fat and calories, this recipe calls for extra-lean ham and boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

“It’s a nice, low-fat jambalaya with a lot protein, which is good for athletes,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York. “If you want a little more satiety, you can add a bit more plant-based fat, like olive oil.”

Green bell peppers – a staple of Cajun cuisine – add another healthy layer to the dish.

“Colorful vegetables – whether they’re green, red or orange – are high in vitamins and phytochemicals,” St-Onge said, referring to plant micronutrients that could reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It’s best to choose brown rice, which is less processed than white rice, and you can increase the amount of fiber by adding kidney beans or zucchini, she said.

Since jambalaya is traditionally spicy, don’t be afraid to add a little heat. Just make sure to leave the saltshaker alone, St-Onge said.

“It’s always better to flavor with herbs and spices than to flavor with salt.”

Chicken and Ham Jambalaya

  1. 1 lb extra-lean ham (cut into half-inch cubes)

  2. 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (all visible fat discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes)

  3. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

  4. 1 Tbsp olive oil

  5. 1 medium yellow onion, about 1 cup, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  6. 2 stalks celery, about 1 cup, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  7. 1 large green bell pepper, about 1 cup, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  8. 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  9. 1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white or brown rice

  10. 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

  11. 1/2 tsp dried thyme

In a deep heavy pot, add 1/2 inch of water and add the diced ham.

Cook over medium heat until the water boils away. In a 4- to 6-quart pot, this will take about 7-10 minutes.

Continue cooking until the ham is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the ham and set aside.

Pour off and discard any fat.

Add the olive oil to the same unwashed pot and raise heat to medium-high.

Season the chicken with the pepper and brown in the heavy pot with the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Add the onion, celery and bell pepper to the pot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, ham and chicken, uncooked rice, chicken broth and thyme to the onion, celery and bell pepper mixture and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the water evaporates and the rice is cooked, about 15 minutes for white rice and 25 minutes for brown rice. Serve in bowls.

Cooking tip: This dish will keep developing its flavors and taste even better the next day.

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email


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