Distinctively Louisiana: Dirty Rice

A Louisiana classic and an all-time favorite.

 

Dirty rice dressing- a Louisiana classic.

Dirty rice dressing- a Louisiana classic.

To be honest, I don’t usually make this from scratch, but usually cheat and purchase the dressing mix from the freezer section of our local store.  It’s the livers and gizzards and trinity already cooked and ground up, ready to be added to your rice or cornbread.  Not available across the country, but definitely across Louisiana.  And, many local mom-and-pop grocery stores in many small communities make their own and sell them in their freezer sections, so, if you are visiting Louisiana, or live in Louisiana, it often pays to try what is offered in your local community, because it is usually really, really good!

No, actually, I was trying to clean out my freezer.

See, I have this 2-pound container of chicken livers?  I had planned on making pate with some Zinfandel Port from a local vineyard located a few miles from my house….well, that was just over a year ago if you check the date on the package.  I sure hope that the port is aging well…I guess I’ll try to make pate again around the holidays.

So, instead, a friend had stopped by the other morning, and they were talking about a get-together…and a little light bulb went off in my head.  These boys need some Dirty Rice.

Most recipes today do not call for chicken livers; people say the flavor is too strong.  Many people will just use ground pork, or just ground beef, or breakfast sausage (sage? eeww.)  If you do choose to shortcut it, the best choice is to  use a fresh sausage such as a green onion sausage, or a chaurice.  A fresh french garlic sausage (not smoked) would the next, and an Italian sausage that is light on the fennel (some are) would be next.  Adding plenty of trinity, lots of garlic, pepper, and green onions at the end can transform it.

Yet, people love boudin, and boudin is nothing more than dirty rice (with livers!), stuffed in a sausage casing and steamed.  The best boudin is found around Lafayette, LA, and I’m pretty sure that the best boudins around there still contain a smidge (or more) of chicken liver in there.

After perusing the internet, and finding no recipes that matched what I had on hand, I went to my bookshelf.  And, of course, there, I found plenty of recipes that matched.

The two that most closely resembled what I had on hand, and what I knew my husband (and his mother’s family would traditionally have prepared), one came from a cookbook from Lafayette, LA Talk About Good,  one of the best-selling Junior League cookbooks of all times. And the other came from his mother’s hometown, Mansura, LA, the Cochon d’Lait Capital of the World, known for their annual suckling pig (supposed to be) celebration and for the town’s general love of all things porky.

While I had a 2 pound container of chicken livers, I only added half of the cooked and chopped livers to the final mix.  I wanted to run out and purchase a pound or two or ground meat, and then add the remaining livers, but, will simply freeze them for another day.  Many recipes also call for gizzards; if you have them, or can find them, feel free to add a half-pound or so in place of some of the chicken livers.

It’s just as easy to make a double batch like this, and freeze it in 2 cup containers.  To each 2 cup container, add 2 cups of cooked rice or 1 regular batch of cornbread.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds of ground pork
  • 1 pound of chicken livers (and giblets, if available)
  • Optional: 1 pound of ground beef or ground venison

Brown meats in the oil and add:

  • 3 to 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 to 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (I used a teaspoon of cayenne at this stage but ended up having to season liberally with cajun seasoning when mixing)
  • To garnish: 1 to 2 bunches green onions, chopped, and parsley, chopped, if desired.

Cook:

  • 3 cups long grain, basmati or jasmine rice in 4 1/2 cups of water with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix:

  • Half of the meat mixture, the chopped green onions and the chopped parsley with all of the cooled rice and gently mix in. .  Taste for salt, pepper, spice.  Add cajun seasoning if needed.  Add more of the meat mix if you feel it’s needed (I froze the other half for another day.)
  • It is best to use a rubber spatula to gently mix the dirty rice to avoid mushing the rice.

I like to remove the meat from the pan to brown the onions first, then add the remaining vegetables to saute, adding the garlic last so it does not get burnt.  The liver can be “chopped” in a food processor, but it is easily over processed into “pate”.   It is best chopped by hand.  Add the meats back to the pan, and add 2 to 3 cups of water to the meat-only mixture, reduce heat to low, cover and let cook until it has dried up a little.  It should still be moist, however.  Make sure it does not burn on the bottom.  AT this point, the meat-only mixture can be used to make a ginormous amount of rice or cornbread dressing, or, can also be frozen in pint or quart containers for future meals or holiday dinners.  Cajuns are notorious (in a good way) for taking that dirty rice and cornbread dressing and stuffing it into deboned chickens and serving them all year long.  They are very tasty, and a nice convenience food when you can pick them up at your local butcher shop (which we can).

Just before serving, mix an equal amount of dressing mix with an equal amount of slightly undercooked rice.  It is best to use a Louisiana long grain rice if you can obtain this.  A jasmine rice is also nice.  It is best to use a little bit less water than your rice actually calls for, and undercook the rice by a few minutes.  Allow the rice to fully cool down before mixing it with the dressing mix.  This will help avoid the rice from becoming too mushy, and will help allow the grains of rice to stay separate.  Although, nothing wrong with a little mushy goodness.  NOTE: Also, one of the secrets to keep the rice from becoming mushy is to rinse your rice before cooking.  This removes the excess starch from the grain. I usually rinse my rice 3 to 4 times, until the water is clear.

In the old days, in Cajunland, many people made their own sausages, and therefore, many people had a meat grinder/sausage stuffer.  The dressing mix would be passed through the meat grinder, liver, giblets, and seasoning vegetables.  This is how it ended up with a coarse texture that was not mushy.  However, the livers also give it a gravy-like quality that is often recreated today by adding canned cream of mushroom soup.

Ground pork and chicken livers- two of the meats originally used to make rice dressing.  In today's world, just ground beef is more commonly used.

Ground pork and chicken livers- two of the meats originally used to make rice dressing. In today’s world, just ground beef is more commonly used.

 

Browning the chicken livers, trying to get a good sear on them.

Browning the chicken livers, trying to get a good sear on them.

 

The livers turned out with a nice sear.

The livers turned out with a nice sear.

 

And the pork.....

And the pork…..

 

After browning both meats, these are the brown bits that were left in the pan - exactly what I wanted.

After browning both meats, these are the brown bits that were left in the pan – exactly what I wanted.

Add in the onions to loosen up all the brown bits. The onions will release water at first, and thus loosen up the brown bits.

Add in the onions to loosen up all the brown bits. The onions will release water at first, and thus loosen up the brown bits. Over time and some medium heat, the onions will caramelize a bit more themselves.

 

Once the onions are sufficiently wilted, and hopefully browned a bit, add int he remaining vegetables to wilt.

Once the onions are sufficiently wilted, and hopefully browned a bit, add int he remaining vegetables to wilt.

Dirty rice dressing- a Louisiana classic.

Dirty rice dressing- a Louisiana classic.

A little lagniappe: By the way, if you have leftover dirty rice, especially if it is a bit mushy, you can form these into balls, batter and dip them into panko bread crumbs, and deep fry them.  Voila, you have boudin balls.  Dip them into some pepper jelly or spicy sriracha mayonnaise sauce….and you have an appetizer that can’t be beat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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