Seasonal pantry: Roll out the spice for Dirty Rice
When it is impossible to either visit New Orleans or head to The Parish Cafe in either Healdsburg or Santa Rosa for a delicious fix of Cajun/Creole food, the next best option is to prepare something yourself.
If you can put some Swamp pop on whatever sound system you use and crank it up loud, it’s even better. Fats Domino, Dr. John, and Jessie Hill will have you dancing between the stove, sink, and counter, and the time will fly by, so don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients for Dirty Rice, a favorite regional dish that is popular throughout much of the south, not just southern Louisiana.
If you’re heading to a potluck, the dish is easy to transport and equally easy to reheat, if need be.
When it comes to rice, some people from New Orleans recommend Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice, as the grains do not stick together or form clumps. I sometimes use Himalayan basmati rice, which comes in a white cloth bag and is available at Oliver’s Markets. When you follow the instructions and both rinse and soak the rice before cooking, it is so delicate and ethereal that it almost levitates out of the pan. It has become one of my favorite varieties and brands of rice.
Dirty rice, a classic Cajun dish, is delicious with roasted or fried chicken, grilled sausages, pork chops and such. It is also excellent topped with boiled crawfish or with Gulf shrimp, the bigger the better, cooked simply in butter and Tabasco sauce. To use this to make Dirty Rice Boulettes — think meatballs or arancini — it is best to prepare it several hours or the day before you plan to enjoy the boulettes.
Makes 6 to 8 servings as a side dish
For the spice blend:
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon ground cayenne, plus more to taste
1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard, such as Colman’s
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
— For the rice:
½ pound chicken gizzards
2 tablespoons chicken fat, duck fat, lard or mild olive oil
½ pound ground pork
2 tablespoons butter
1 green bell pepper, cut into small dice (see Notes below)
1 small white or yellow onion, minced
3 celery stalks, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups homemade chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1¼ cups long-grain white rice (see Notes below)
½ pound chicken livers, ground in a food processor
2 green onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
— Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce
For spice blend: Mix together the spices and herbs. To do so, put the 2 teaspoons of kosher salt along with the cayenne, black pepper, paprika, cumin, thyme and oregano into a small bowl or glass jar, stir or shake, and set aside.
For the rice: Rinse the chicken gizzards, cut them into chunks, and put them into the work bowl of a good processor fitted with its metal blade. Pulse several times, until the gizzards are finely ground.