Everyone living in the Lowcountry should have their favorite way to cook, eat rice

features@beaufortgazette.comMay 7, 2013 

Rice was grown in the United States for the first time in 1694 when some seed was obtained from the captain of a ship trading at the harbor in Charleston. This was the beginning of the slave trade to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the coasts of Georgia and Florida. This area of the country was ideal for growing rice. West Africans knew how to cultivate the crop. Rice grew so well in the fertile swampy lands here that many proclaimed Charleston to be the area where the world's finest rice was produced. It was called "gold rice," worth the weight of gold.

The coastal regions of the Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana are known for their high rice consumption. Except for Louisiana, these states are the home of the Gullah-Geechee people. Gullah-Geechee are the people who came to America -- unwillingly -- to harvest the crop.

Their love of rice has not left them.

There is an art to cooking rice. Every grain should be fluffy and loose, every grain "standing to itself." The proper proportions of rice and water are heated until the rice absorbs all the water. Rice should be stirred once, with a fork, heat turned to low and allowed to cook slowly.

There are a number of varieties of rice, and they cook differently. Short-grained rice usually cooks tender and moist, while long-grain rice cooks drier and quicker.

Packaged rice should not be washed before cooking, as washing rice wastes important natural and added nutrients. Draining or rinsing the rice after cooking is a mistake as it is very wasteful of nutrients and flavor.

There are ways of cooking rice. Everyone in the Lowcountry should have a favorite way to cook rice, as well as favorite recipes.

STEAMER METHOD

1 cup rice

1 cup water (or slightly more if a softer rice is preferred)

1 teaspoon salt

Place rice, water and salt in the inset pan of a rice steamer. Put this over the bottom section of the rice steamer in which 1 1/2 quarts of hot water have been placed. After the steam from the lower part of the cooker is steady, turn down the heat and let cook for 30 minutes or more.

OVEN METHOD

2 cups hot water

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup rice

Put rice, salt and hot water in a 2-quart baking dish or casserole. Cover and soak in an oven at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the water is absorbed.

This is a good way to prepare rice and is easy to do when the other foods on your menu are also in the oven. The rice may also be cooked at a higher temperature, such as 425 degrees.

FLUFF METHOD

2 cups water in a 2-quart heavy saucepan

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup rice

Bring the water to a boil; add the salt and rice. Cover with a lid and boil for 15 minutes. Adjust the heat so that a gentle boil is maintained until the water is absorbed. At the end of the boiling period turn off the heat and allow to remain covered for 10-15 minutes. Do not lift the lid during this steaming period.

HOPPIN' JOHN

Makes: 8

1 cup black-eyed peas

1 medium ham hock

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery

1 small bay leaf

2-3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup uncooked rice

Put peas, ham hock, onion, celery and bay leaf in saucepan; add water and seasoning. Simmer until peas are tender. In a rice steamer, place the uncooked rice, 1 cup cooked peas and 2 cups of liquid from peas. Mince the ham hock and add to the rice mixture. Steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Source: Clemson University Circular 431

TANGY MEAT LOAF

Makes: 6

1 cup cooked rice

1 egg

1 pound ground beef

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Dash of pepper

1/2 cup milk

1 small onion, minced

Cook rice, or use leftover rice. Beat egg slightly, mix in beef, seasonings, milk and onion. Add rice. Shape into a loaf in a greased baking pan and bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes.

Source: "Waccamaw Favorites," recipes from Pawleys Island

RICE SAUSAGE CASSEROLE

Makes: 6

1 pound country sausage

1/2 cup onion, minced

1 (11-ounce) can condensed tomato soup

1 1/4 cups water

3 cups cooked rice

1/2 cup grated cheese

Brown sausage and onion. Drain off excess fat. Thoroughly mix together the tomato soup, water and rice. Arrange alternate layers of sausage and rice in a greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Source: Ervena Faulkner's personal file

Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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