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Charleston red rice

Sat, 5 August, 2023

It is also known as Carolina red rice or Savannah red rice. Whatever the actual geolocation, it is a Southern dish descended from West African jollof rice.

Charleston red rice

Red, red rice

My rice isn’t as vibrantly red as Millie Peartree’s at New York Times Cooking, but that’s probably my penalty for cultural appropriation. On the other hand NYT photographer might be niftier with image editing.

Seriously though, it’s probably the difference in the kind of tomato purée they have in the US, which is more like Italian passata, and the tomato paste that I used in the recipe.

But it doesn’t have to be Technicolour red to be utterly delicious.

southern red rice

Where does the red rice dish come from?

Red rice goes back to the times before the United States of America were born.

It was a hearty dish cooked by the enslaved West Africans brought to the American colonies, to which is now South Carolina.

In fact rice itself was brought to the American continent on the slave ships and it was originally grown in small plots by the slaves for their own food.

In late 17th century though it became a valued crop grown on plantations in the region and widely exported.

All that clearly explains the similarities between Charleston red rice and jollof rice. They are both spiced, fragrant, tomatoey dishes cooked in one pot.

carolina red rice

How to cook red rice?

Red rice is easy to cook and the technique is familiar to anyone who cooks jollofs or pilafs. The fat/meat insert in red rice is bacon, though apparently ‘fatback’ – pork back fat – and a little sausage is also traditionally used.

The bacon should be cooked first until crisp, so that the rendered fat can be used to cook the vegetables: Creole ‘holy trinity’ of a soffritto, pepper, onion and celery, with a little garlic added later.

creole holy trinity

To that base rinsed rice is stirred in, with the returning bacon, water or stock and tomato paste, plus all the spices and seasoning: hot sauce, sugar, black and cayenne pepper and Cajun spice.

When is gets to the bubbling point, it can be covered and transferred to the oven for just under an hour.

how to cook red rice

Homemade Cajun seasoning

If you like, make your own Cajun seasoning rather than use a shop bought jar.

It’s a mix of 2 ½ tsp paprika, 2 tsp sea salt, 2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp white pepper, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, ½ tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp dried oregano and 1 tsp dried thyme.

It is very similar to Creole seasoning and some people do believe the two are the same spice mix. But the expert opinions say that Cajun is hot and peppery while Creole is milder and more herbal, with the emphasis on garlic and onion.

red rice

More rice recipes

Mejadra is a simple lentil and brown rice dish and my recipe has a great fried onions shortcut tip. Levantine rice and lentils were the biblical Esau’s ‘bowl of stew’. Probably.

Tomato rice with crispy cheese topping can be made with leftover cold rice. Spiced up with tomato and chilli, flashed under the grill, ready in 40 minutes even if the rice is boiled from scratch.

Persian baked rice with saffron and dill. Recipe for Persian rice (tahchin) with tahdig, burnt, crisp and crunchy layer of rice at the bottom. The easiest Persian rice recipe with perfect tahdig every time.

savannah red rice

More Creole recipes

Chicken Creole with chicken breast chunks and homemade Creole seasoning; best served with rice or plain tortilla chips.

Easy dirty rice with minced pork and homemade Creole seasoning, a bomb of flavours and a healthy main course ready in about 40 minutes.

Prawns Creole for two served with plain rice is my signature special main dish these days. Easy sauce base and roux, and homemade Creole seasoning recipe included.

lowcountry red rice

Charleston red rice

Servings: 2Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


  • 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 celery rib
  • ½ large green or red pepper
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 200g (1 cup) long grain rice
  • 70g (2 ½ oz.) concentrated tomato purée
  • 500ml (2 cups) chicken stock or water
  • 1 tbsp hot sriracha sauce
  • 1 tsp Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
  • parsley leaves, for garnish


1. Dice the bacon and place it in a cast iron casserole dish (or a large sauté pan) on the hob, over medium heat. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally.

2. In the meantime peel and finely chop the onion, celery and pepper.

3. When the bacon is crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon leaving the fat in the pan. Add the onion, celery and pepper to it with 1 tsp salt and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened.

4. Peel and finely chop the garlic, add it to the softened vegetables and cook for another minute.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

6. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, drain it on a sieve. Add it to the pan with the bacon, about ¾ of the tomato purée, stock, sriracha sauce, Cajun seasoning, sugar, black and cayenne pepper. Stir well and bring to a simmer. When it’s bubbling, taste the liquid and adjust for salt, spice and tomato intensity; add more if needed.

7. Cover with the lid and transfer to the oven. If you don’t have a suitable dish, transfer the rice from the pan into a baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake the rice for 50 minutes.

8. Remove it from the oven and fluff up with a fork. Serve with greens or beans, sprinkled with parsley.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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