RICE DREAMS

“Sauté and simmer, the flavor can’t be beat!” Does anyone else remember that jingle? It’s an old one, but for some reason, that little ditty plays in my head whenever I’m cooking rice. Maybe because it describes one technique for making perfect rice, and that’s the crux of today’s culinary rant: Why can’t people in this country cook rice properly? It ain’t that tuff!

Rice is the staple food product of more than half the world’s population, yet few Americans can cook it properly — or care to even try. They serve gummy, mushy rice or, worse, crunchy, undercooked rice, and consider that acceptable. Unbelievably, most chain and corporate restaurants lazily serve a packaged mix that’s insipid, boring and overly salty.

It’s sad, because rice offers so many possibilities.

Fortunately, rice is once again being grown commercially right here in Jacksonville. A small start-up farm called Congaree and Penn Farm & Mills grows a strain known as Jupiter rice and it’s making quite a splash at farmers markets. I was lucky enough to visit the farm for the May Day farm tour and was thoroughly impressed with the beautiful, productive enterprise. What a great addition to our food community!

Of course, the most important aspect of rice is eating. (A few words on Chinese take-out rice: mushy, starchy, tastes like dishwater. Why is it always awful? Just a lack of passion and it’s cheap, I guess.)

Among my favorite rice-based cuisines are three from right here in the Southern U.S.: Cajun, Creole and Low Country cuisine.

The rice that’s most common in these is converted rice (think Uncle Ben’s). Such rice holds up well to baking and the liquid-to-rice ratio is much more forgiving.

Some of the most beloved, awe-inspiring dishes are called perlou. Perlou rice dishes also include seafood, game, sausages or whatever other delicious items are available. The basic preparation is to sauté and simmer! Sound familiar? Then throw the perlou in the oven and let all the beautiful flavors combine into “the aroma of heaven.”

I’m so hungry now I’m gonna make my favorite version of a perlou: Jambalaya!

CHEF BILL’S SHRIMP & TASSO JAMBALAYA

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 pound tasso, brunoise (finely diced)
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and diced small
  • 3/4 cup onion, brunoise
  • 1/2 cup celery, brunoise
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, brunoise
  • 1/2 cup red pepper, brunoise
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
  • 3 ounces white wine
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 & 1/2 cups shrimp stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Sweat the onions, add the garlic and sweat for several minutes.
  2. Add half the celery and peppers. Cook until they begin to soften. Add the tasso.
  3. Add the seasoning and incorporate. Deglaze with the wine, reduce au sec.
  4. Add the rice and stir to toast and incorporate.
  5. Add the tomatoes, remaining vegetables, tomato sauce, and stock. Stir and add the salt & pepper, and the shrimp.
  6. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook in a 350˚F oven until rice is soft and all liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Until we cook again,

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Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!

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