Who will be the next Chef de Riz?
If you love rice, and you love to cook, and you get yourself to Crowley, Louisiana, in October, you could be crowned Chef de Riz at the 73rd Annual International Rice Festival.
To earn the title, you'll have to wow the judges with a dish that includes at least one cup of cooked rice, and the rice of choice in South Louisiana is long grain white rice.
As popular as rice is in the American South, its origins and the legends surrounding it go back more than 3,500 years to India and the Niger River delta in Africa. China, India and Indonesia remain the world's primary producers.
The modern production method, removing the bran and germ layers of brown rice until all that remains is the inner white kernel, results in a highly-polished rice that cooks quickly; it also strips the rice of many nutrients, so many companies, especially in the United States, sell enriched white rice.
There are two types of starch in rice: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a long, straight starch molecule that does not coagulate during cooking, so long grain rice, which contains more amylose, cooks fluffy with separate grains. It has slender kernels, four or five times longer than they are wide, that expand in both length and width when cooked.
When you bring rice home from the market, transfer it from its bag to an airtight container, to prevent any little stowaways from moving in. Remember to cut the label from the bag or box, along with the cooking instructions, and keep them in the jar. Stored in this way, rice will keep for a year or more.
In the kitchen, long grain white rice is like all-purpose flour; if you're missing the particular rice called for in a recipe, you can substitute long grain, whether you're making Ecuadorian chicken fried rice or arroz con pollo, layered rice pilaf with dried fruits, rice pudding, coconut-ginger rice, or "fried" rice in your slow cooker.
Come to think of it, any of these dishes would make a great entry in the Chef de Riz competition. How about it?
Chicken and shrimp jambalaya
My family's absolute favorite, this one-pot dish needs no embellishment. Not for vegetarians, and not for diets, either. It's a once-in-a-while, oh-so-comforting treat. Serves 6.
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 lb hot smoked sausage (andouille, spicy chicken, or beef hot links), sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful dried oregano (approx 1-1/2 Tbsp)
1/2 handful dried thyme leaf (approx 3/4 Tbsp)
4 large dried bay leaves
1 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste (from 4 drops to 4 oz. I use a mix of Tabasco and something stronger.)
8 oz canned tomato sauce
1 lb chopped or diced canned tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought), or water
2 cups long grain white rice
1 lb peeled, deveined large shrimp (or a few more, to taste), 26-30 size
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a 6-quart or 8-quart stock pot, melt butter over low-medium heat. Add sausage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until quite brown and sticking to the bottom of the pot, up to 10 minutes. Add onion, green pepper and celery, and cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.
Turn heat to high, and add chicken. Stir frequently, 2-3 minutes, until chicken is “seized” (no longer pink on the outside). Reduce heat to low, stir in garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper, and stir 1-2 minutes. Add hot sauce, and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and tomatoes. Stir to combine, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring once.
Uncover, add chicken stock, and bring to the boil. Turn off heat, and stir in the rice. Cover the pot and bake for 50 minutes. Stir shrimp into the rice, cover, and continue to bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, and let the pot sit in it for at least 5 minutes before serving.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Paella a la Valenciana
Chicken paella with slow-roasted tomatoes
Farfalle with spinach and sausage
Arlo's Saskatchewan chicken jambalaya
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)
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