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Published October 14, 2009, 01:00 PM

Recipe-phile: Wood-parched wild rice is autumn’s coup de maître

We just got our wild rice back from the parcher, a plump 70-pound bag of fresh new-crop wild rice, hand-harvested by canoe from the creek just below our house. Not by me, though – I went ricing once and that was enough.

By: Amy Thielen, Park Rapids Enterprise

We just got our wild rice back from the parcher, a plump 70-pound bag of fresh new-crop wild rice, hand-harvested by canoe from the creek just below our house.

Not by me, though – I went ricing once and that was enough. Tiny albino spiders skittering up your arms, miniscule worms inching their way into your socks ...

No, thank you. I’ll stick to eating it.

I start paying attention to it once it reaches shore. This year I watched from a distance as they carefully transferred the heap of rice, which was sitting on a clean tarp, from canoe to sack. (I heard a whoop and later learned it was a near-roll of the canoe. What’s more precarious than trying to get out of a canoe full of 75 pounds of rice?

They threw the bags in the back of my car and I toted it to the parcher, which for us has always meant Lewie Dewandler on the Ponsford Prairie. His son and daughter-in-law did most of the parching this year, and it’s still as good as ever. They toast the rice with attention and skill, in a barrel twirling over a wood fire, as it should be done.

Nothing compares to wood-parched wild rice. The fragrance of the smoldering fire gets into the rice and the blazing heat toasts it hard but quickly, giving it an earthy, smoky quality.

This contact with the wood fire, when coupled with the light sweetness particular to things raised in clean water, not to mention its absolute freshness, makes for some pretty outstanding wild rice.

After years of gathering our own rice and bringing it to Louie for parching, I have a hard time eating any other kind. In my opinion the wood-parched rice is so much more delicate and flavorful than the shiny black paddy rice. Bent and light brown with creamy stripes, this rice pops at the bite. Now I know why my grandma always insisted on what she called “real wild rice, the brown kind” for her creamy chicken and wild rice soup.

For the longest time I thought it was just her way with the soup that made the rice so light and delicious, but now I know it was her pickiness. It’s undeniable; part of good cooking lies in choosing the ingredients.

Sometimes I can’t believe that I grew up here yet didn’t know much about the local wild rice until I was in my early 20s, when my husband started going ricing. At the time I remember cooking some for breakfast, dropping it into a bowl with a few pecans, swirling some maple syrup on top and being struck with how good it was and how right it felt to be eating it on my porch overlooking the creek – feelings that were mixed with this sinking sense of arriving late to the party.

But I’m making up for it now by sending bags of hand-harvested wood-fire parched rice out to friends across the country, and cooking and eating all the family can stand. I’m a brazen advocate for the stuff. Most people are amazed to open the package and see light brown rice instead of black rice, but I think it will eventually become more widely known. Nothing this delicious could ever slip through the cracks.

Wood-Parched Wild Rice with Bacon and Mushrooms

Note: it takes only 25 to 30 minutes to cook wood-parched wild rice.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup diced bacon, about 3 thick-cut slices

2 tablespoons butter

1 3/4 cup diced onion

1 cup diced cremini or white button mushrooms (5 ounces)

1 cup wood-parched wild rice, rinsed well and drained

1/2 teaspoon salt + to taste

1 3/4 cup water

5 turns pepper

1/2 fresh bay leaf or 1 dried

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Wash the rice thoroughly in a fine mesh sieve and leave to drain. Heat a saucepan large enough to accommodate the cooked rice and add the bacon. Cook slowly, rendering out the fat, and when the bacon is crisp, remove it to a plate.

Dump out excess fat, leaving a thin layer to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the butter, onions and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until both are tender and the onions are light golden and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the washed rice and bacon and stir to coat in the fat. Pour in the water, bay leaf and thyme and taste for seasoning, adding salt until the liquid is completely seasoned. Adding enough salt in the beginning will ensure that kernels of rice will be seasoned and flavorful throughout, not just on the outside.

Bring the water to a simmer, then cover and turn down to steam on the lowest heat. Steam 25 to 30 minutes, or until the rice is a mass of tender, bent, half-popped kernels and all of the water has been absorbed. If the rice is tender but water remains in the bottom, set the lid ajar to a mere crack and, holding it tight, tip and pour out the excess liquid.

Brothy Wild Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

2/3 cup wood-parched wild rice

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 sprig thyme (optional)

1 cup water

(or use 2 cups leftover cooked rice)

1 1/2 cups diced carrot

1 1/2 cups diced leek (1 large)

1 cup diced celery

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt + to taste

16 ounces (2 packages) cremini or shiitake mushrooms, or a mixture of the two, diced

7 cups low-sodium beef broth (or homemade)

2 dried bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed (or 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary)

To cook the wild rice: Rinse the rice in a sieve and drain. Combine the rice, water, ½ teaspoon salt, thyme and water in a small saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, cover tightly, then turn down the heat to low and gently steam for 25 minutes, or until the rice has opened about 75 percent and has absorbed the water. Pour onto a large plate to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot and add the garlic and the mushrooms. Season with the salt and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mushrooms are wilted and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove to a dish. Fill the pot with stock and add the diced vegetables, bay leaves and rosemary. Bring to a point just below a simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Add the mushrooms and the rice and cook another 30 minutes over very low heat to give the flavors a chance to come together.

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