An iconic side dish of Cajun cuisine is rice dressing, commonly referred to as dirty rice, made from seasoning and spices along with pork liver. You won’t see a meat-and-three plate lunch without a scoop of the stuff – it’s practically a food group in Acadiana.
Here in South Louisiana, there are numerous commercial dirty rice dressing mixes sold in most every local grocery — Savoie’s, Harold’s and Richard’s all make good ones. These products are excellent quick solutions for preparing standard rice dressing fare. But over the years, I’ve discovered unique variations of the dish that offer up a heavier dose of the offal bits and pieces of the pig. More intense, these versions of dirty rice are porkier, spicier, and more livery than its more mainstream cousin. This is hardcore Cajun, and it’s down right filthy with flavor.
Dirt, filth, offal bits and pieces? Before you bolt for the door or a Google search, let me explain. Every culinary culture — Cajun and Creole included — takes great pride in the butchery process of breaking down a whole animal into a completely edible food source. The English are masters of the craft and coined the term “offal” which means the edible organ meats and entrails of a butchered animal. French cooks have taken it to a culinary artform with pates, foie gras, terrines and sweetbreads among the best interpretations. And here in Cajun country, artisans take pride in the craft of butchery, and the boucherie is always a ceremonious occasion to celebrate the pig with every part and piece used. Hogs head cheese, boudin, cracklin’, and pig’s feet are very common dishes.
For my down-and-dirty dish, I start with a stack of colossal yellow onions from Fresh Pickin’s market. These big boys are perfect for stuffing and large enough to elevate my side dish to center stage. This version of rice dressing is darker, richer, and more flavorful than any you’ve ever tasted. The surprise will be how light and airy it is as it mingles with the baked onion flavors.
Your family and friends will love it. I promise.
And hey, let’s just let this recipe be our dirty little secret.
- 6 extra-large yellow onions
- 1 pound smoked bacon, diced
- 1 pound pork liver, cleaned and diced
- 1 pound chicken gizzards, diced
- 3 pounds ground pork
- 3 tablespoons dark roux
- 2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
- 2 cups finely diced white onion
- 1 cup finely diced celery
- 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 4 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Dash of hot sauce
- 3 tablespoons dark roux
- 2 tablespoons browning sauce, such as Brown Kwik or Kitchen Bouquet
- 4 cups Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 4 cups chicken stock
- Trim the stem end of the onions, but leave the skin on. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the onions in the water. Turn the pot down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the onions par-boil for 10 minutes until you can pierce the top of the onion easily with a knife. Remove the onions from the water and cool. Once you can handle them, peel back the skin to expose the onion. With a spoon, scoop out the onion from the top until you have formed a large cavity for stuffing. Place the onions on a baking sheet for later cooking.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, place the bacon and begin to cook. Once the fat is rendered and the bacon is cooked, remove the pieces from the skillet to a platter and reserve for later use.
- While the skillet is still hot, add the liver, gizzards, and pork to the bacon grease. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat until done and move to the platter containing the bacon pieces. Once cool, transfer all the meats to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse on high until all of the meats have pulverized to very small bits and pieces. Be sure not to go too far and purée into a paste.
- While the skillet is still hot, add some of the pork lard to coat the bottom of the pan and heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper, and sauté until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and turn the burner to low. Add the garlic powder, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and a dash of hot sauce. Stir until fully incorporated.
- At this point, add all of the pulverized meats to the vegetables and heat together on a low burner. Stir in the dark roux and let it melt into the mixture. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl, cover, and keep warm.
- Make the rice following the package directions, but using chicken stock rather than water.
- Once the rice is done, add it to the mixing bowl combining with all of the meats and vegetables. Add the browning sauce to darken the mixture and stir to combine. Continue to fold in the rice until it takes on the dark color of the mixture and all of the meats have been disbursed within the rice.
- Spoon the mixture into the cavity of the onions mounding it on top. Place the onions with the rice mixture into a preheated 400ºF oven and bake for 35 minutes until cooked through and just beginning to brown on top.
- Serve as an entrée or as a side dish with hot sauce on the side.
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