Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Quick jambalaya

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 Quick jambalaya
This alternative approach to an old Cajun favorite musters leftovers including previously cooked rice in a quick-and-easy variation.
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Quick jambalaya

There's no better way to find out what you really like to eat and cook than to take a couple of weeks off from the kitchen.

When I returned from a little time off recently, I found myself craving simple, natural fare and, somewhat to my surprise, almost desperate for seafood.

A quick trip out to a favorite sushi bar provided quick relief, and as I got back into the kitchen, I found myself making a disproportionate amount of simply prepared shrimp, scallops and fish, pan-seared in olive oil and finished with butter and lemon over pasta or rice.

Simple, delicious pleasures, but not much to write about there. Ditto for a brace of medium-rare, locally produced natural rib eye steaks, called into service when the desire for a good red wine became too much to resist.

I knew my appetite was fully restored, though, when I heard a Louisiana favorite, jambalaya, calling my name. Spicy and hearty, jambalaya has played a repertory role in these columns, as I've featured it at least twice in Jambalaya (July 17, 2003) and Jambalaya Revisited (Nov. 18, 2004).

Those were traditional preparations, though, with Acadian aromatics and meat, poultry or seafood ingredients simmered with uncooked rice so all the flavors come together and permeate every grain in a preparation that you might call Cajun pilaf.

Here's an alternative version that I made in a hurry from leftovers, including a ration of previously cooked rice. I was a little dubious about this approach, fearing that running the cooked rice through another turn in the skillet might yield a gummy, overdone paste. With reasonable care to keep the heat gentle and limit cooking time, things worked out fine. Any time you've got extra rice around, this quick jambalaya comes close to authenticity with modest time and effort. I used Italian sausage as the meat component, but it would work as well with diced ham, boneless chicken bits, shrimp or crawfish.


(Serves two)

2-3 cloves garlic
Red onion, enough to make 1/2 cup (120g) chopped
Celery, enough to make 1/2 cup chopped
Green bell pepper, enough to make 1/2 cup chopped
2 links mild Italian sausage, about 8 ounces (240g) or other meat, poultry or fish as above
Bay leaf
Dried red-pepper flakes
1 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons hot sauce or to taste
1 cup cooked white rice
1/2 cup chicken broth
Black pepper


1. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and chop the onion, celery and green pepper.

2. Cut the sausages into rounds and cook them over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet (you shouldn't need any additional fat) until they are browned and cooked through. Remove the cooked sausage to drain on paper towels, and discard most of the fat.

3. Leave a tablespoon or two of the sausage fat in the skillet with any browned bits and brown the garlic, onion, celery in it with the bay leaf and a discreet shake of dried red-pepper flakes.

4. When the aromatic vegetables are browned, reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the tomato sauce and about half of the hot sauce. Heat through, then stir in the cooked rice and about one-half of the chicken broth. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. A few minutes before serving, return the cooked sausages to the mix, adding a little more of the chicken broth if needed. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and additional hot sauce, if necessary.

5. Serve with a salad or green vegetable and pass more hot sauce for those who want it.

WINE MATCH: I held back on the hot sauce a little in hope of facilitating a wine match, but it was a bit much even for a fine Italian-style red from a favorite Central Coast California producer, Mosby Vineyards. A good quality beer would be an excellent, quenching alternative here.

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