Red, red rice oh you taste so fine…

Okay, now for something totally different. Well, if you’re not from South Carolina that is.

There are a few dishes that I always associate with barbeque* (and by barbeque I mean some type of pork  that has been slow, and I mean s-l-o-w roasted, and served with a slather of vinegary sauce). This would be potato salad, coleslaw and red rice. Before I get away on a tangent about barbeque I will stop and state that I plan on devoting several posts to barbeque but for the moment this one is about red rice…

As far as I know, red rice is very specific to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. I have seen it referred to as “Savannah red rice”, which geography speaking is the southern most point in the area known as the Lowcountry. My mother made lots of rice dishes as my dad was a child of the most eastern outskirts of the Lowcountry, above and to the east of Charleston, Williamsburg County, SC. It’s really closer to Myrtle Beach, if you are familiar. Red rice was and is my favorite rice dish.

This area was known for growing rice back in the day (the 1700’s up until the Civil War) and for its very fine pit roasted whole hog barbeque. Even now, this barbeque technique is referred to as Williamsburg County style, at least among those ‘in the know’, and it’s the way I learned to cook barbeque. Side note: I recently saw Rodney Scott and family of Scott’s Bar-b-que on Andrew Zimmern’s Travel Channel show, Bizarre Foods America. Scott’s is located in Hemingway, SC (Williamsburg County) and yes, he uses the same technique and you can see some of it here. He knows what he is doing.

Okay, so that was the tangent I was hoping to avoid…knew that would happen. Another ingredient that is so prevalent along the coast here (and grown commercially too) is the tomato. We have wonderful tomato-growing soil. Red rice is the child of all these things, well sort of, if you count bacon in place of the barbeque. My mother also makes red rice when she bakes ham and you can make a delicious one-dish meal by adding chopped ham to red rice leftovers.

I used brown rice in this recipe as well as lots of bell pepper and a good vegetable broth replaces plain water. Yes, I do use bacon (good quality is best). There’s really no substitute for that pig… Oink, oink!

* I have always spelled barbeque with a “q” instead of a “c”. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary both barbecue AND barbeque are acceptable spellings. Since barbeque was originally created along the SC/NC coasts, the SC Barbeque Association uses the “q” spelling, and with the letter “q” being too underutilized in my opinion, I’m sticking with the “q”…thank you!

Ingredients for red rice are simple but the flavor is complex.

The onion and bell pepper should be cut into a medium chop and be about the same size.

Yes this is bacon – regular bacon will do. If you can resist nibbling, the cooked and crumbled bacon is great on top of the red rice. Unfortunately I was weakened by my love of bacon and so there was none left for this batch…

Saute the veggies in 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings until just tender.

Mix the warm broth and the tomato paste together.

All the ingredients bubbling to a low boil. Pop on the lid, turn the heat to a low simmer and wait…

…and here’s the tricky part. Does not look too appetizing at the moment, does it? Resist the urge to stir it up now. If the liquid has been absorbed, remove from the heat, remove the lid and let it sit for a few minutes. Then…

Fluff with a fork. Here you have red rice. It will be a creamy and a little sticky. I like the brown rice as it really absorbs the tomato flavor plus it’s better for you!

Red Rice

  • 1 heaping cup brown rice (or 1 1/3 cups white extra long grain rice)
  • 2/3 cup sweet bell pepper, medium chop
  • 2/3 cup onion, medium chop
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or broth, preferably low sodium
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • hot sauce, optional

In a saucepan fry the bacon until crisp and remove all but 1 Tbl. of the bacon fat. Set the bacon aside to drain for later use. Saute the peppers and the onion in the bacon fat until just tender – about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Warm the broth and whisk or stir in the tomato paste. In a heavy bottom pot (that has a lid) pour the broth/tomato mixture and heat to a boil. Mix in the rice, the vegetables, and the salt and stir. Turn down the heat and cover with lid. Simmer on a low heat for about 40-45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. You can do this by tilting the pot to the side and see if any liquid is still in the bottom of the pot.

When you are reasonably assured all liquid has been absorbed, remove the lid and allow to sit for about 5 minutes off the heat. Then carefully fluff with a fork. The rice will be tender and slightly creamy. Serve immediately with crumbled bacon on top and hot sauce on the side, if desired. Serves 4-6.

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