Southern dirty rice with minced pork, oyster mushrooms and peas – my current absolute top rice recipe.
What is dirty rice?
Dirty rice, a dish out of Louisiana, is an amazingly tasty meat-flavoured rice pilaf. It gets its name from ground meat cooked together with the rice, which virtually disappears when the dish is ready, leaving just the ‘dirty’ colour, fantastic flavour and a meaty satisfaction.
They use chicken livers and gizzards in Louisiana for their dirty rice, and a very good thing too as it means good value and no waste of the lesser bits of the animal. The seasoning is either Cajun or Creole: the former being a mix of various peppers with earthy, hot flavour, while the latter has more herbs in it like oregano and thyme.
The cooking method varies from recipe to recipe. Some instruct to cook rice separately and only mix it with the spicy meat sauce before serving. That obviously works well if you have some leftover rice you want to use.
Others advise to cook everything together from scratch, like a pilaf, and I strongly favour that option. Cooking sauce separately is all very well with pasta. With rice, you want the grains to absorb all the possible flavours while they cook.
Dirt and spice in dirty rice
My take on dirty rice makes use of ground pork for the ‘dirt’ element. It works incredibly well too. Pork is fatty enough so you don’t need to add any extra fat to the dish. It is tender so it virtually dissolves into the rice, leaving only the meaty flavour and the ‘dirty’ colour.
It reminds me a little of Italian ragu for pasta which, in its most orthodox form, is made with meat cooked in the sauce but removed from it to be served as the main course. The sauce is meaty, but without a trace of meat in it to be discerned.
The vegetable element in dirty rice is classically the southern ‘holy trinity’ of green pepper, celery and onion. I usually swap celery for broccoli stem since, unlike celery, that’s what is always there in the fridge drawer. And I use green jalapenos instead of bell pepper for some extra heat.
Whenever I make a rice dish for a main course, I cannot resist adding some veggie ingredients – simply so I don’t have to prepare any sides. One pot dish ladled into bowls always makes me happy.
In this case some mushrooms and frozen (or fresh) peas do the trick. The mushrooms dirty up the rice a bit more and the peas provide greenery in all that dirt.
And I prefer Creole seasoning to Cajun - if you can't buy it, it's easy to mix at home.
How to make dirty rice with pork?
It’s so easy to cook! Starting with the ground pork, frying and mashing it with a fork to break up the lumps, the base gradually builds into a flavour bomb. Diced onion et al join the meat and I immediately add the seasoning, to smother the oniony fragrance and stop it from permeating the whole house.
The rest of the vegetables need cooking only for a minute or so before the rice is added.
You can use long grain rice, basmati or brown (the latter making it yet dirtier). Peek into my rice cooking tip to compare the stock to rice ratio and cooking times – it’s pretty much foolproof.
The gist of it is: 3 minutes vigorous cooking followed by 20 minutes simmer over minimum heat, plus 10 minutes resting off the hob – tightly covered with the lid throughout.
Where to start? Apart from the classic chicken livers, the meat element can be whatever you fancy and/or hides in your freezer.
Beef mince, lamb mince, turkey mince all sound good. I can also easily imagine nduja, mashed Italian sausage or black pudding acting ‘dirt’.
And if you want to prepare it without meat, finely chopped mushrooms will certainly do the trick.
More rice recipes
Rice pilaf can be made in the oven, like the three mushroom baked rice: a veggie dish of fluffy rice with three kinds of mushrooms and minimum effort.
Persian baked rice with tahdig, the crispy bottom, is gorgeous but tricky to make on the hob – less so in the oven like in this recipe.
Fried rice is my takeaway of choice. But it gets even better when you make it at home: beef and shiitake fried rice is my favourite.
More Creole recipes
Prawn Creole is one of the most wonderfully tasty dishes and exciting for the European palate – even though Creole cuisine has its roots in France and Spain.
Jamaican hummingbird cake is easy and unpretentious, with buttercream frosting decorated with pistachios.
Chicken chunks in Creole sauce, that’s a great new way to handle that boring old bird.