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.

Ray Rice and Wife

            Ray Rice has been released from his NFL football team and banned indefinitely from the NFL – this week. Based on previous footage from outside of the elevator, he was banned for two games and then welcomed back into the fold. Only when the footage of the violent left hook took out his fiancé, smashing her head into the side the elevator was he given the boot. Domestic violence has a new face for the moment.

            With all of the conversation about domestic violence since the 1970’s (some argue Bela Abzug in the 1960’s) that exposed the terror of such abuse, why is domestic violence still so prevalent?

            An article appeared in Aeon online magazine written by Rebecca Onion that examined the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” advice column in the Ladies Home Journal from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. The column was dominated by a man who believed in the pseudo-science of eugenics, Paul Popenoe. He submitted the cases that the Journal considered for publication and all of them were overseen by his counselors. The rock-solid conclusion was that the woman was always to blame.

            “Sue” was wrong for denying “Jack” sex after he hit her. She should have known that her refusal would only escalate his anger. Most of the columns that mentioned domestic violence and male anger minimized the violence of these incidents. The woman was seen as the spark of the incident and the one who had to change or compromise to resolve the issue.

            Fast forward to Ray Rice and the woman he slugged who is now his wife. Like the dated advice columns, the NFL minimized the incident at the casino. I have no doubt that the original punishment was more of a business decision meant to show while the League was paying attention but that they wanted to move on to other subjects. The focus was business and not about an abused woman and an abusive man.

            A comparison between the two teases out the real reaction of a good chunk of American culture – minimize domestic violence and hide it away. Outrage won the day this time although it was a slow and uneven process. Too many times, the woman ends up dead as the man’s anger continues to escalate.

            For advocates against domestic violence, we did not win anything this time but a few minutes of media attention. This case demonstrates how thoroughly domestic violence is still tolerated in many neighborhoods of our country. Then as now, wishing it would disappear is a fool’s hope.