/ by Jonathan Ammons / photo by Eli Warren
You may not think of rice when you think of American farms, but perhaps you should. Rice was very much a part of southern agriculture as any other staple crop. Whether smuggled, woven in the hair of enslaved West-Africans, or later imported by immigrants from China and Japan, both the Low Country and the yawning delta of the Mississippi River have deep roots with the ancient seed.
When the Arant family started farming back in the ’20s, it was mostly cotton, cattle and catfish. But by the ’70s, they’d adapted to grow corn, soybeans and rice at their farm in Ruleville, Mississipppi. When David Arant Jr took over operations, he helped to develop Delta Blues Rice, a single source, farm-to-pantry rice company growing and milling traditional long grain, brown and Jasmine rice.
Arant also began milling rice to make grits, a welcomed alternative to the traditional corn grit. Unlike regular grits, rice grits don’t require milk or copious amounts of butter to come out creamy, as the high starch content of the seed makes them naturally velvety. Not to mention that the absorbent nature of rice makes for a grit that sops up the flavor of whatever stock you choose to cook them in.
It is important to remember that, like corn grits, rice grits take on the flavor of whatever they absorb, so it’s always smart to cook them in your favorite stock. Bring a 2:1 ratio of stock-to-grits to a boil, back the heat down to low, cover and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, giving it one good stir towards the end.
Okra Gumbo with Rice Grits
1 cup rice grits
2 cups salted water or stock
2 cups okra, sliced thick
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1-2 cups veggie stock
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
- Begin by cooking your grits. Bring 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of grits to a boil, cover and let simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring once. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- To make gumbo, begin with a roux. Add oil to a hot pan. Lower heat to medium and add flour, whisking constantly. If the roux is forming a thick paste, add more oil, if it is too liquid, add more flour. You want a viscous sauce that sticks to the back of a spoon, not something too watery or too thick. Stir continuously until the roux takes on a dark golden color, being careful not to burn it (remove from and return to heat, as needed).
- Once the roux has taken on its color, add onions and simmer it in the roux for several minutes. Add the remaining solid ingredients and allow them to sauté in the roux for a few minutes, before adding the stock. Stir in the stock in stages, so that it incorporates with the roux.
- Add the cajun seasoning and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce begins to reduce and thicken, nicely. Spoon a scoop of cooked rice grits into a shallow bowl and ladle the gumbo around it.
Rice Grit Congee
A staple in Chinese cuisine, congee is a velvety porridge that packs an intense and flavorful punch. Serves two.
½ cup Delta Blues Rice Grits
5 cups veggie stock
1-3 slices of fresh ginger
1½ cup mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
1 cup veggie stock
½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Green onion for garnish
- Add rice grits, ginger, salt and stock to a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover with lid left widely ajar to allow steam to escape and stock to reduce, compacting all of those rich flavors. Boil for an hour, stirring occasionally, and more frequently as the porridge gets thicker.
- While the congee cooks, it’s time to make the gravy. Start by sautéing onions on medium heat in a neutral oil. Once the onions have turned translucent, add garlic and sauté for several minutes. Add mushrooms and toss until cooked. Dash in soy sauce and simmer until the sauce reduces. Add stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the stock is reduced by half. Shortly before serving add cornstarch (dissolved in 2 Tbsp water to create a slurry) and stir to thicken the gravy. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
- After an hour, the congee should be thickening nicely. You’ll need to stir more frequently as the stock reduces. You’ll know it is done when it develops a creamy, velvety consistency.
- To plate, add congee to a bowl, top with the mushroom gravy and garnish with chopped green onion.