Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cold Weather Cooking: Carolina Gold

Being inside on a cold day makes a person want to cook.  So here's what I've been experimenting with.

First, I got some interesting rice for Christmas.  It may seem odd to get rice for Christmas, but this is special rice: Carolina Gold rice.

My dad loves this rice, and he gave everybody a bag of it. You can get it at the Whole Foods in Nashville.  Perhaps coincidentally, my sister gave me a book about this rice:

This book has a connection to our family.  Karen Hess, the author, found an old South Carolina cookbook compiled by a Mrs. George Stoney.   Her husband was a distant cousin of my grandfather's.  Hess reproduces the cookbook inside her own, larger book that explains how rice cultivation came to the Low Country of the United States from Africa.  Europeans knew next to nothing about the cultivation and cooking of rice, but their African slaves knew all about it.  The rice plantations of South Carolina were totally dependent on the slaves' expertise in growing and cooking rice.
Carolina Gold rice was not grown much after the 1920s, because it needed a lot of hand labor to grow.  But now some growers are reviving it. One of them is Glenn Roberts, who has searched out and grown a lot of old Southern heirloom grains.  Here he is in a field of Carolina Gold rice:

You can read more about his project to grow heirloom Southern grains at the Anson Mills website.

Back to the cooking part.  The African way of cooking rice is different from the way most Americans do it nowadays.  Now, we are usually instructed to boil two cups of water for every cup of rice, and then add the rice and cook it for about 20 minutes, for white rice, or 40 minutes, for brown rice.  But in Africa and India, the preferred way to do it for millenia was to boil the rice in a large amount of water for fifteen minutes, and then strain it, put it back in the pot, and let it sit in a warm place for as long as an hour, to fluff up.  The result is very fluffy rice, with every grain distinct.

The Chinese are the inventors of the other way of cooking it--boiling it in water until all the water is absorbed--because this uses less fuel, and they were chronically short of fuel, apparently.

I tried cooking my Carolina Gold rice the African way, and it was very fluffy and pretty.

The other traditional way of cooking rice in South Carolina, via India and Africa, is the pilau.  In this preparation, a savory broth of meat, vegetables and herbs is prepared and strained.  Then the rice is cooked in the broth until all the broth is absorbed.  This rice is served with the meat that was strained from the broth.

I did this sort of by accident a few days after Christmas because we had a smoked turkey carcass. I made a thick, rich turkey broth with the bones and some vegetables, strained it, and then cooked some of the rice in it.  But it was really a soup rather than a pilau; nevertheless it was really good.

Indian kichadi must be a cousin of pilau:  you saute vegetables and spices, then put the rice in to saute, perhaps with some quick-cooking lentils or peas, and then add water and cook until all the water is absorbed.

In my next post, I'll talk about my experiments with another traditional Southern grain:  corn grits.

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