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Paul Prudhomme "Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo
'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my cher ami-o
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.

Celebrated in the kitchen and in song, jambalaya may be as good a dish as any to symbolize the people, the culture and especially the food of Louisiana's Cajun country, the watery arc of bayous that circles along the state's Gulf coast from New Orleans to Layfayette, where a form of French still accents the speech of the descendants of settlers from Acadiana in Nova Scotia who fled there before the Revolutionary War.

Possibly evolved from the Spanish paella in Louisiana's multi-cultural mix, jambalaya is a cooked rice dish that may contain a wide variety of meat, poultry, seafood and fish in any combination; sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes without, but always spicy, with a complex blend of fiery flavors that go far beyond merely dousing the dish in Louisiana hot sauce.

Most dictionaries trace jambalaya back to the Provencal word, "Jambalaia," defined as "a stew of rice and fowl." But I enjoy Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme's somewhat more unlikely notion that the word comes from "jambon a la ya," linking the French word for ham ("jambon") with an African word for rice ("ya").

I learned to make jambalaya from "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen," the cookbook that helped spread the portly Acadian's culinary fame around the world in 1984 and that probably added 20 pounds to my own frame as I cooked my way through its delicious recipes, with all the butter and oil and gigantic portions that he advised.

Over the years I've learned to modify his ingredients and proportions a bit, and this tasty and fairly easy version of jambalaya is the result. I like to make it with ham and spicy sausage as in Prudhomme's original "Poorman's jambalaya," but you can freely substitute chicken, shrimp, fish or just about anything in the larder. As Prudhomme told me when I was lucky enough to be able to interview him for a feature story in 1986, "Cajun food is poor people's food. If it moves, we'll eat it."

INGREDIENTS: (Serves four to six)

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves
4 ounces ham (Cajun spiced tasso, if available)
6 ounces andouille or other smoked sausage
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or a 14.5-ounce can of quality canned tomatoes
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 green onions


1. First, prepare a seasoning mix. Grind the black and white peppercorns and sea salt in a mortar and pestle (or use a pepper grinder), and add the cayenne, dry mustard, cumin and whole bay leaves.

2. Chop the celery, green pepper and onion (a combination so characteristic of Cajun cookery that it's jokingly called "The Holy Trinity") and mince the garlic; put all the vegetables together in a bowl. Peel and seed the tomatoes and chop (or open the can); in either case you'll use both the tomatoes and their juice. Chop the green onions and set aside separately.

3. Cut the ham and sausage into smallish (1/4-inch) dice. Precision is not important.

4. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet (cast iron is ideal), and cook the ham and sausage for a few minutes; then add the chopped celery, green pepper and onion and the seasoning mix, and continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and starting to brown.

5. Stir in the rice and cook for another minute or two. Then add the tomatoes and their juice, and finally the chicken stock. Stir and bring just to the boil; then cover tightly and reduce heat to very low - a bare simmer - and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally, especially near the end of cooking, and add a little water or stock if necessary to keep it from sticking. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped green onions before serving.

MATCHING WINE: Wine can be iffy with hot-and-spicy fare, and dry and acidic wines in particular seem to intensify the "burn" without enhancing its pleasure. I often switch to cold beer or iced tea with Cajun food, but if you want wine, think in terms of bubbly (modest sparkling wine), slightly sweet (Riesling often works well with fiery dishes) or fruity (I tried it last night with a Chilean Montes 2001 Reserve Malbec).

Discuss this recipe in our online forum:
If you would like to talk about jambalaya in a civil online environment, you're most welcome to visit our interactive Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Jambalaya." Click to:
Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

Food hotlink: Chefs and Chateau Palmer

Our friends at Chateau Palmer, where I enjoyed a visit in May, don't just make some of the best wine in Bordeaux, they also have an exceptional Website, focused more on wine appreciation and education than commerce.

They're just about to open a new section on their Website that should be of interest both to wine enthusiasts and "foodies," and they gave me an advance peek and permission to share it with you.

This page features photos of prominent chefs and sommeliers from the Continent, the UK and Japan (with more to come). Pass your mouse over each photo, and the chef's name and position, along with a quote about food and wine, will appear in the middle of the page. Click the photo, and a more extended article will pop up, offering a short insight into the individual's philosophy.

Bruno Quenioux, for example (sommelier at the Lafayette Wine Boutique in Paris) observes that "wine is essence" and not "static like many enologists seem to think." He adds: "Wine is in perpetual motion like the universe, constantly evolving. It is limitless." To browse all the comments, you're welcome to visit

Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note at I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can.

Of course you also have a standing invitation to participate in our interactive Food Lovers' Discussion Group. To participate in this friendly online community, simply click to
and feel free to reply to any topic or start a new one.

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Thursday, July 17, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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