. Digest: A Journal of Foodways and Culture
Rice Dressing

With the arrival of winter, and the onset of Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays, my family prepares to enjoy one of our old time meal favorites, Rice Dressing. This dish might be similarly known to others as “Dirty Rice.” Although it might seem odd for a native West Texan, who has lived in California, New York, Latin America, and now Arkansas, to refer to a Cajun staple, my mother’s kitchen influences have continued with me and my family regardless of location. My mother grew up in East Texas along the Louisiana border during the mid-twentieth century, but her father was a Cajun from Jennings, Louisiana. My mom learned to cook from her mom who learned to cook from my grandpa’s family, whose roots can be traced to the Lafayette, Louisiana bayou region since as far back as 1708, where the paper trail ends. This long-time Cajun cooking tradition simmered into my childhood family meal time. Dinner regularly included (and still does) gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, boudin, etc., but rice dressing was a special dish only prepared for holiday meal gatherings, in both my memory, and my mother’s. Perhaps because of its time consuming preparation, or the mere fact that Mom’s recipe is set to feed 40, no one ever ventures to make it at other times of the year. As the meat and vegetables are browned and simmered in an old cast iron pan for several hours, a rich rustic pungent smell fills the house. In our family, this serves as a hearty side dish never to be left off the holiday menu. Although every year Mom hopes to avoid the preparation and extra dish (that surely won’t all get eaten), a firm rejection comes from us children, and now our children, with the affirmation that we wouldn’t have the complete meal without it. Variations to the recipe are allowed. I often use an enamel covered cast iron pot and prefer to cook it outside on the grill, so as to avoid the typical smell that seems to stick to every piece of fabric in the house for the next week. Mom never includes Grandpa’s original meat ingredient preference, livers, due to her personal (and singular in our family) aversion to them. Just be sure to brown it until you think it could not possibly get any darker, and you might be alright. Even though Grandpa has been gone for more than fifteen years now, we still enjoy the taste of tradition he left us. I hope you enjoy this Cajun classic as much as we do. Recipe shrunken and adapted from the recipe of Sue Knepp, who adapted her recipe from her parents Sylvia and Harry Hossley’s recipe, who likely adapted theirs from an even earlier version which was never written down, but always prepared.

Rice Dressing

Rice:
2 ½ cups uncooked long grain white rice
5 cups water
2 tablespoons margarine
¼ teaspoon salt

Meat Mixture:
1 ¼ lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground pork
1 large onion
1 bell pepper
4 stalks of celery
½ head of garlic
3 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Instructions

To prepare the rice, cook water, margarine and salt in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Stir in the raw rice and return to a boil. Put on a lid and turn down heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes on low heat. Do not uncover pot. Set aside to rest until the meat mixture is ready.

For the meat mixture, dice the onion, bell pepper, and celery and set aside. Finely chop the garlic and keep it separate from the other vegetables. Preheat a large cast iron pan until very hot. Season the meat with the salt and black pepper. Brown the beef, pork, and chopped garlic on medium high to high heat until very brown and crumbly, stirring frequently to break apart the meat, being sure not to burn it. Add the diced onion, bell pepper and celery and cook until vegetables are tender and browned. Pour in the chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the broth is evaporated. At this point, uncover and fluff the cooked rice. Pour the meat mixture over the cooked rice and stir well to evenly distribute the meat mixture. This will make the rice “dirty” as it takes on the color of the meat and broth mix. Cover the pot again and allow the dirty rice to set for at least half an hour, giving time for the rice to fully absorb the flavors of the meat mixture. This dish can easily be prepared in advance and warmed in the oven in a foil-covered pan until heated through. Some people prefer making it a day in advance, claiming the flavors are better when rested longer.