Dirty Rice; Dirty History

One of the weekly standby dishes easily found in Louisiana cooking is dirty rice. A boxed version of dirty rice located the grocery shelves offers a popular version of the dish, “just add ground meat” and you have a great family meal. There is nothing grand about the history of the dish though and today’s recipes for the dish are a far cry from its origins – thankfully.

 

Dirty Rice was a poor family’s cooking. While the slaughtered chicken went into the stew pot up in the plantation house, the slaves or the tenant farmers were left with the chicken guts, even the chicken feet. The Louisiana plantations planted rice in the bayou where it grew plentiful and cheap for the locals. The original dirty rice was cooked chicken guts, the gizzard, heart, and kidneys, cooked in a pan. Afterward the cooked organ meats were chopped fine while the rice cooked in added water in the same pan. The two ingredients were seasoned with salt and pepper before serving. Dirty rice tastes good but the appeal loses some of its luster when considering what was being served in the better houses.

 

For the poor of Louisiana, Black, White and Cajun, dirty rice was a filling staple dish. The dish required local ingredients only and provided stomach filling satisfaction. As a family gained more wherewithal, they kept dirty rice but added more ingredients. Andouille sausage was ground pig stomachs and spices, yet, cheaper than cuts of pork but more expensive than chicken guts. The sausage was added to the pot of rice. Vegetables came and went as they became available and then disappeared with the seasons.

 

Dirty Rice has not changed. Organ meats are still the least expensive items in the meat case. Ground beef and ground chicken are more expensive but adding more rice to the dish stretches out how many mouths one dish can feed, so penny-pinchers can still indulge. Of course, one can sauté vegetables and fold them in, or add hot sauce for an added flavor burst. The dish continues to be trash cooking at its finest, perfect for wilting greens and forgotten items in the back of the refrigerator that are still usable if cooked.

 

Just as an aside, after swapping out the organ meats for sausage, chicken meat and vegetables, the dish is called jambalaya. Add some chili powder for a kick if you want.

 

Dirty Rice is presented as “authentic Louisiana” cooking, a dish that every visitor to the state should seek out and savor. For tourist dollars, one can taste the echo of poverty. Everyone should and while sampling the food, a person should also appreciate the ingenuity and skills of these poor communities that turned the least desirable ingredients into a specialty.

 

Dirty Rice

1 lb.          ground meat (any kind will do)

3/4 cup   medium grain white rice

2 cups     water

Salt & pepper

 

Sauté the meat in a heavy pan (like cast iron) until browned. Remove and set aside, leaving the grease in the pan. Add rice and water, cooking 15 minutes or so until rice is soft. Return meat to pan. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

Lessons From Granola #5

RE: Honey It’s Not

In April of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered a draft copy of new regulations concerning the labeling of honey sold in the United States. This proposed regulation was a foot-dragging response to a petition filed in 2006 by the American Beekeeper Federation requesting the FDA to specify the definition of honey as being only the substance that comes from bees. After five years (2011) the FDA rejected the request with the reasoning that every reasonable person knows what honey is. Three years later in 2014, the FDA was forced by its weak justification to agree to regulate the labels on honey but only as a gesture of confidence for the consumer, not beekeepers. The regulation is still in draft form as of this writing.

Here are the numbers. In 2013 residents of the United States consumed 400 million pounds of honey. The beekeepers of the United States only produced 149 million pounds. We imported 251 million pounds of honey or at least a golden colored substance called honey. One batch that came through Mexico that year was so adulterated that Customs seized it. The American Beekeeper Federation wanted the definition in place to stop the importation of adulterated honey. Their argument was only if the honey was free of fillers and unadulterated with other non-bee substances should the product be called honey.

In 2013, American honey cost $2.12 a pound for producers. Importing from other countries was much cheaper, especially if the honey was bulked up with inexpensive filler. Imports from Brazil, Mexico and the Soviet Union were impounded by the FDA during the 1990’s but apparently little has been done to stop the flow of adulterated honey in the intervening years.

Honey imports are not inspected because “FDA laboratories do not have the instrumental capability to analyze honey according to the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, AOAC Official Method 991.41, which requires an isotope ration mass spectrometer.” (FDA Import Alert 36-01). This admission of the FDA that they do not own a spectrometer highlights that the honey you see on the shelf in the grocery store is honey-flavored corn syrup or more common, honey-flavored rice syrup. Rice syrup already has a color and consistency similar to honey.

The proposed labeling regulations will be meaningless. The FDA has no equipment to analyze honey and most honey is imported, where there is no monitoring of contents. A food corporation can plead ignorance and there is no follow-up regulation that an importing company must verify the purity of the honey at its source – a willful but legal ignorance.

Rice syrup is just as bad for the human body as corn syrup, which is already documented as harmful. The health benefits of honey, which has been used in wound care and medicine for millennia, are absent from the common products labeled “Honey” on the grocery shelves. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Thus coating an open wound in honey seals the injury from infection. The other words such as “pure”, “genuine”, “100 percent” are all empty, unregulated words by the FDA on honey labels.

Pure honey is expensive. However, purchasing the most expensive honey on the shelf is no guarantee of purity because there is no definition of honey and labeling is worthless. This is one product where the only guarantee is buying from the source, that is to say, direct from the beekeeper.

If this circumstance is not difficult enough, we are experiencing a die-off of European honeybees in the United States. The likely culprit is a pesticide manufactured by Bayer. “The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.” (earthjustice.org) However, lobbyists for the company have convinced the Department of Agriculture not to pull the pesticide from the American market despite the European Union banning the pesticide in 2011. There is a distinct possibility that we will not taste pure honey for years to come in the United States.

My recipe began with a base recipe that called for ¾ cup of honey. Obviously the recipe was written for a more innocent time. By switching to molasses as the source of sweet and gooey, the honey was cut back to two tablespoons, although it could use more. Molasses has a harsher taste, wonderful in barbeque sauce to balance the bite of vinegar; however, using molasses forces the cook to rely on the maple syrup for a gentler, sweet taste. Due to the present lack of confidence in pureness of honey, this recipe must reach out for other sweet ingredients that must be combined to make up for the lack of honey. Tch.

Lessons From Granola #6: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Lessons from Granola 2

Re: Gluten Free misdirection

Members of my family have food intolerances that include wheat and corn. They have tested negative for Celiac Disease, meaning that they do not have a wheat allergy, or precisely, a gluten allergy. People with symptoms such as inflammation across the body, belly bloat, and unusual weight gain (such as 2, 3 or 4 pounds in a twenty-four hour period) have a greater probability of having an intolerance of some sort rather than a gluten allergy. A simple blood test of Celiac Disease can sort out the truth. My family members have intolerances but the question is what substance or substances can their bodies not tolerate?

Gluten Free is a meaningless term for people with food intolerances. It is not the gluten in and of itself.

The issue may be the preferred processes of large scale monoculture agribusiness. Two weeks before the harvest of wheat, corn and soybeans, farmers are instructed to spray their fields with herbicide, typically Roundup©. By killing the plants at the root and drying up the plant, sophisticated combine harvesters need less maintenance and repairs. My family may be more sensitive to herbicides.

Others have mentioned pesticides and fungicides used during the growing season, although these substances usually run off earlier in the growing season, causing other sorts of environmental damage. More often, purists point to manufactured fertilizers. When Egypt built the Aswan dam, replacing the annual flooding of the Nile River, their agriculture changed in fundamental ways. The flooding had brought nutrients from the center of the continent to naturally fertilize the land. The Egyptian government responded to the loss by building synthetic fertilizer factories. The taste of the vegetables changed dramatically, giving off a metallic or aluminum flavor that replaced the more organic flavonoids. I was unable to locate any studies on the increase or diminishment of the nutritional content of Egyptian produce after the placement of the Aswan dam. There are no studies on the rise of environmental ailments either.

In the United States, the ORGANIC label means herbicides are tightly controlled. The Federal Regulation on Organics reads: “Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.” Crops are harvested differently than the large-scale agribusiness crops; the plants are more likely to be alive at the time of harvest. Herbicides cannot be used on the crops themselves, only in the adjacent areas used for keeping the farm up and running and farmers cannot use harsher chemicals.

I wish this was the end of the story, a tale of virtuous farmers producing a better food for us to eat. This is only the beginning, however. Most of us do not purchase our grain products directly from the farm. This granola is gluten free because the recipe is oats and buckwheat but, alas, in the American food market, even the simplest ingredients can trip the unwary.

Next Episode: Aren’t Oats Good For You?