The Best Drinks To Pair With Jambalaya

In addition to being a "Top Chef" favorite, Nina Compton is the chef and owner of two award-winning New Orleans restaurants, Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro. So naturally, when speaking to the chef at a NOLA jazz-inspired event for Shake Shack and Tabasco, we had to ask for some tips on eating and drinking like we're in the Big Easy. For starters, the chef recommends you enjoy oysters with a light, frothy Ramos Gin Fizz, but for heavier dishes, she suggests taking a different route.

When you think about the New Orleans food scene, there's a pretty good chance one of the first things that comes to mind is jambalaya and Compton let us in on her tip for the ultimate drink pairings. If you're digging into a warm bowl of the comforting classic, you'll want to reach for a drink that's strong enough to compete with the dish's heartiness and bold, spicy flavor; Compton recommends pairing jambalaya (as well as other heavy New Orleans favorites, like étouffée) with a full-bodied wine or a cocktail.

Sip a spirit-forward cocktail

When it comes to cocktails, Compton has a clear favorite to kick off the night, telling Tasting Table, "I like to start my meals off with a Sazerac, the classic New Orleans cocktail, because that really opens up my appetite ... and just get[s] the juices flowing." A spirit-forward drink, Sazeracs are made from a combination of absinthe, rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, and a little sugar.

If you're in the mood for a cocktail with your jambalaya, but absinthe isn't your thing, we suggest you try a different whiskey cocktail like a highball, Rusty Nail, or the Vieux Carre  (another New Orleans classic) which combines rye, cognac, Bénédictine, two types of bitters, and sweet vermouth. Whatever drink you choose, you'll want to steer clear of anything too fruity or sugary which will clash with jambalaya's big, savory flavors.

Full-bodied wines can hold their own against hearty jambalaya

For wine, a successful jambalaya pairing requires a little more finesse, as there are two versions of the dish: Creole and Cajun. The key difference? Creole has tomatoes and Cajun doesn't, which is a big factor when it comes to which wines will pair best with your meal.

For tomato-y Creole jambalaya, go red: Chianti and Pinot Noir are solid full-bodied choices. If your goal is to bring out the cooking spices in the jambalaya, consider cracking open a bottle of Zinfandel, with its tasting notes of licorice, anise, blackberry, and cardamom.

For tomato-free Cajun jambalaya, white wine may be a better choice. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are classic options for complementing seafood, but you could also add a little brightness to your meal with a Chenin Blanc, lending light, delicate citrus notes of pear and yellow apple.