31 January 2009

Rice - Wild and Not So Wild

Including a simple, delicious recipe for Chile Wild Rice & Poached Eggs

L- hand harvested, wood parched, long grain; M- hand harvested wood parched short grain; R- 'wild rice' from the store

A couple of weeks ago, I bought some 'wild rice' from the local Amish store. I popped it into a pressure cooker at 10 pounds of pressure and checked it after 30 minutes, then 50 minutes. Even at 50 minutes in a pressure cooker, the grains hadn't properly 'exploded' like I was used to seeing. The taste was also much stronger and 'in your face' than I recall wild rice being years ago.

This led me to do some browsing on the net. It didn't take long to discover that there are three distinct ways to approach 'wild rice'. To me, wild rice is meant to be the grains from plants growing wild along rivers and lakes in the northern US and Canada, such as were harvested by native Americans for centuries. But this is no longer the predominant case.

First, there is the readily available, commercially produced 'wild rice'. This isn't wild at all but uses hybrids in paddies to mass produce grains. Grains are machine harvested, then parched at a high temp using propane burners. The result is a very black, very dry product that is relatively inexpensive but requires 50 minutes of cooking or more. And it is mainly grown in California, with other paddies in Minnesota.

Secondly, some native American tribes hand harvest the grain sort of like a co-op in the northern US and Canada, but still parch it using propane burners due to the volume of their harvest. This is an improvement because by hand harvesting can the harvesters get only the ripe grains and leave the green grain behind. But the result, while a step forward, is still black and dry and takes substantial cooking.

Lastly, I discovered, there is hand harvested and wood parched wild rice. This grain is harvested as it ripens, and is parched over wood fires, usually by native Americans. This grain ends up gray (and a bit dusty) but only requires about 18-20 minutes cooking time.

As soon as I could, I ordered some of hand harvested, wood parched wild rice from Minnesota. Two days later, it was in my mailbox and not long after, in my pot... The vendor, Scott Paavola, of The Farm Next Door also kindly included a 1 cup sample of some shorter grain wild rice, harvested from headwaters of the Mississippi instead of the lakes, as the long grain was.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a distinct difference between the 'store' wild rice and the two hand harvested wood parched rices. The store rice has a much stronger aroma, and takes far longer to cook. It's flavor is very strong, and really has to be mixed with brown rice or something to knock down the aggressive flavor. To eat this rice by itself with a spoon would probably not be pleasant.

The wood parched rices have a milder smell, and a nice mild nutty, ricey flavor. When cooked, there are no hard pieces, and the exploded grains are soft but still have some 'tooth' to them.

Before cooking the wood parched grains, they need to be rinsed repeatedly in warm water. I wash them in a metal bowl, slosh it around, and pour off the water and any husks, etc floating on top, and repeat until the water is nearly clear. Then, they go into a covered saucepan at a ratio of about 3.5 parts liquid to 1 part rice. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer. The long grain takes about 18-20 minutes to cook, the short grain about 20-22 minutes. Pour off any remaining liquid, and your rice is ready to go.

Note that we did NOT add any salt. The grains I've tried have an inherent salty taste to them. So, salt lightly and carefully after the grains are cooked. They may not need any salt at all. If you add it at the end and over-salt, you can quickly rinse and drain the rice. This rice can stand up to it.

And, although you can add this to brown or white rice to make it go further, this rices is perfect by itself. When we made the first pot to try it, we planned on mixing it with brown rice for another dish for dinner. We got a spoon and tasted. We tasted again. Tae got a second spoon and we continued 'sampling' until it was all gone... As Alton Brown would say, this was some seriously good eats.

The mild interesting flavor is definitely worth trying. This rice will definitely be in my list of things to always keep on hand.

Chile wild rice & poached eggs

1 Tbs white vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp Earth Balance 'butter'
1 green serrano chile, diced
2/3 c wild rice, cooked (wood parched, of course)
2 eggs

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the vinegar.

Heat a 10 inch pan over medium low heat in a good non-stick pan. Add the oil and butter, and saute the serrano until it softens. Add the rice and begin to heat through.

As the rice is warming, add the eggs to the boiling water. turn off the heat and cover. Allow the eggs to poach for 2-3 minutes or until done.

When the eggs are done, dump the rice mixture onto a warm plate. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and rest the spoon on a clean tea towel to make sure all the vinegar water is removed. Lay the eggs on top of the rice. Salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Delicious!


  1. wood parched wild rice does not turn the outer hull black.

    Curing 5-10 days causes the hull to continue to turn black.

    it is not the method of heating that turns the hull black.

    no one picks wild rice until the hull starts to turn black or dark gray when the seed is still on the plant in the lake.

    otherwise you get immature wild rice that is not ready to harvest.

    all wild rice is "hand parched" because the only thing about hand parching is how one puts the wild rice into the parcher...

  2. Here's a link for more wild rice processing info www.wildricenation.com

    And another from the Ojibwa method of wood parching, etc here

    From the second it does appear that curing time changes the grain color, but that the Ojibwa preferred immediate processing which results in a faster cooking grain.

    Other references indicate that the darkness of the grain is a result of the amount of bran left. The more bran, the darker the color.