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Feb 21, 2007
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Wine With. . . Jambalaya

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


There's a lot to be said for one-dish meals.  They can be made ahead of time.  They can feed a single pair of people or an entire party.  And because they incorporate a multiplicity of ingredients, they tend to go well with a wide range of wines.  Jambalaya is just such a dish.


A few days ago the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra teamed up with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, treating our city to a high-energy, rip roaring, crowd-pleasing performance--which we, unfortunately, missed as we were out of town that night.  But a handful of our pals who did go to the show gathered together beforehand at our friend Georgia's house for a jambalaya feast to set the mood for the New Orleans style jazz fest they were about to experience.  We got a consolation prize when Georgia showed up at our door the next day with leftover jambalaya and a request to come up with the best wine for the dish.  It was a challenge we readily accepted.


What we discovered is that jambalaya can be surprisingly accommodating to many different styles of wine.  Georgia's rendition of the traditional New Orleans dish was a Creole-styled tomato-based 'red jambalaya' rather than the Cajun 'brown jambalaya' (which is based on chicken or beef stock), and its diverse components included chicken, shrimp, ham and sausage (no alligator).  One or another of these ingredients struck a flavor-chord with different wines: the richness of concentrated tomato with bright fruit flavors of an Aussie Shiraz, for example, and the piquancy of cayenne with the spiciness of Zinfandel and Rioja.  The smoky/meatiness of sausage and ham intertwined tastily with similar elements in a variety of wines, while Rosé and certain Chardonnays provided a welcome refreshing note. 


What didn't work?  Wines that were too lightweight and/or too acidic or, conversely, too overbearing.  Jambalaya needs a wine that's relatively big in flavor, but not necessarily in texture.  It most definitely needs a wine with a gutsy finish.  Let the good times roll!




1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

½ pound lean smoked ham cut into bite-sized pieces

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves cut into bite-sized pieces

1 pound andouille sausage cut into ½ inch pieces

½ pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (or a combination)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

¾ cup uncooked rice

1 ¾ cup chicken stock

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.  Add parsley, ham, chicken, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Add tomatoes (with juice), tomato sauce, and chicken stock.  Over low heat, simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in rice.  Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid.


Meanwhile, sauté pieces of andouille in a skillet pan until lightly browned on all sides.   Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain off excess oil.   In the oil remaining in skillet, sauté shrimp for about a minute on each side.


Add shrimp and browned andouille to the rice mixture and cook 5 minutes more. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with more red pepper and salt if desired.  Serves 6.




Approx. Price



Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel 'Heritage' 2004





The spicy, briary flavors of this balanced yet full-flavored Zin married well with the peppery spice in the dish.  The wine sports only 13.5% alcohol, so did not seem at all hot or heavy.  In our experience, many of today's headier Zinfandels prove difficult to pair with food; this one had no difficulty.




Kali Hart Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Chardonnay 2005




This very flavorful Chardonnay (a second label of sorts from Talbott Vineyards) showed enough bright, sweet fruit not to be overwhelmed by the spicy jambalaya.  It offered the added advantage of being a refreshing contrast to all the heat in the dish.




Marqués de Riscal, Rioja (Spain) Reserva 2002

(Imported by Shaw-Ross)




An old-fashioned Rioja, this wine shows plenty of spicy American oak.  If the wine were sipped by itself, that element might prove irritating.  When paired with spicy food, though, the oak seemed to calm down, and the wine became a very pleasant complement.




Wolffer Estate, The Hamptons (Long Island, New York) Rosé Table Wine 2005





An unconventional blend of 48% Merlot, 39% Chardonnay, 8% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine nonetheless tastes very much like a good Provençal rosé, with bright red berry flavors augmented by echoes of dried herbs and citrus peel.  When paired with the jambalaya, it had sufficient depth of flavor and proved very refreshing.




Woop Woop, South Eastern Australia (Australia) Shiraz 2005 (Imported by Epicurean Wines)





The vivacious berry flavors of this young Aussie Shiraz melded nicely with the spicy tomato sauce that formed the base for the jambalaya.  The hint of pepper in the wine's finish only enhanced the match.