Never Have I Ever!
For the past few weeks I’ve been helping my girlfriend’s family through a difficult challenge. Her father was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and has been on an emotional roller coaster between doctors, midnight hospital visits, and chemotherapy. All of which have taken a toll on the family and, needless to say, on him as well. But he is a strong Southern Gentleman! Raised in South Carolina, he started his own business at 15 and has not stopped since. Becoming one of the most respected Contractors in Miami, FL.
He also loves Charleston Red Rice. A lot!
It was a point of discussion when I first met Alicia’s parents for the first time, after they found out I cook. I asked for his favorite dish (currying favor with your girlfriend’s father usually involves food) and his eyes lit up at describing Charleston Red Rice. The sweetness of tomatoes, brown sugar, bacoooon, and bell peppers. I promised one day to make it.
Last week, his family came over from South Carolina to see him. They asked me to cook a popup for them in the same style I do for our themed events. And Charleston Red Rice was on the menu.
Due to life, and hospital visits, and lots of traveling between Jacksonville and Miami, I never got to eat it. Now, I promised Red Rice to southerners. I’m Cuban, and have never made it.
This got interesting real fast!
What is Red Rice?
Red Rice is a traditional dish from the South, primarily Georgia and South Carolina. Cooked with Tomatoes instead of water to give it sweetness and its characteristic color. Its also know as Savannah Red Rice, Lowcountry Red Rice, Gullah Red Rice, or simply Red Rice with tomato sauce and sausage. It has strong ties to Jambalaya, especially in the addition of sausages, and aromatics like celery, bell peppers, and onions. “Southerners like it sweet” I was told, so brown sugar was also added for a tangy flavor. Once you eat it, the flavor starts at the tip of the tongue, where the most sweet receptors are, then the acidity of the tomatoes kick in and the sides of the tongue ate and carries all the way to the back of the throat, where the aromatics leave a lingering aftertaste that makes you take another bite.
It’s really, oooey gooey, good!
And so we made it!
I treated it as I would a Jambalaya, omitting the spices traditionally found there and replacing them with paprika, brown sugar, white pepper, and thyme. First render bacon, gets it crispy and all that fat will serve to sautee the onions, bell peppers, and sausages. When I add the rice it gets coated with bacon fat, a little butter helps here too. Toast the rice like you would a risotto, add the crushed tomatoes, and brown sugar. As the water from the tomatoes evaporates, you may need to add some liquid to finish cooking the rice, chicken stock works best here. Fresh parsley (optional) makes a lovely garnish for this dish.
And the best part! The Southerners loved it!! They kept getting extra helpings!!
Paula Deen would be proud!
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After reading all your awesome comments and catching areas where to improve, we’ve updated the recipe and tweaked it a little bit for ease of use. Thanks for all your comments and let us know how the new (and improved) recipe is working out for you guys!
Charleston Red Rice is the ultimate rice comfort food! Its sweet, has tons of meat! And the aromas from tomatoes and celery can’t be beat! Especially when you add candied bacon!
- 8 oz Bacon chopped
- 2 Onions small diced or shallots (optional)
- 1 cup Celery
- 14.5 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- Kielbasa cut 1 cm thick
- Fresh Parsley (chopped optional)
- 2 Bell peppers small diced
- 1 tbsp fresh Thyme
- 2 Cup Chicken Stock
- 2 Cups Rice
- 1 Tbsp Paprika (smoked is best)
- 1 Tbsp Butter
- In a hot pan, add butter and saute the chopped bacon until the fat is rendered.
- Add sausage, onions, bell peppers, and celery and saute until the onions are translucent.
- Add rice and coat with the bacon oil and butter. Toasting the rice until a nutty aroma is released.
- Add the thyme, Paprika, and the crushed tomatoes.
- Add chicken stock to cover the rice. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on low until liquid is almost gone. Keep adding chicken stock as needed.
- Top with parsley
It’s also common for people to use ketchup instead of tomato sauce and sugar in this recipe, for my taste it’s too tangy with the ketchup and it feels somewhat processed (artificial). This version feels more connected to the roots of where Red Rice came from and Low Country Cuisine.