Yes, New Year has come and gone and, like nearly every New Year since I met my bride, we made Hoppin’ John and Collards. There would be no lily-guilding in the meat or meat-based stock department. It was not vegan by any means (greens had an amazing hock of Kite’s country ham and the beans had a pig’s ear and slice of smoked pig’s head), but I wanted to focus on the actual beans and actual rice. Nobody pays any damned attention to the beans or the rice in Hoppin’ John and that is all that it is.
I could go on about Sea Island red peas (and I already have), but the best I can tell you is that they are the best beans that I have ever eaten. They are worth every cent that you will pay for them and you should buy as many as you can afford. With that being said, and even more oddly, this post is about rice. Just rice. “Where is the ice cream?”, you are likely asking. We learned at McCrady’s in that “Charleston Ice Cream” is the nickname given to this preparation.
The last time that I cooked rice that I ate was in 2010. I have eaten rice since then, but only when rice is not the thing that you are served so that you do not leave a restaurant with available stomach space. Which is to say, I eat rice a few times per year. When this rice arrived in the mail though, I knew that I’d be eating rice.
Charleston is so steeped in rice tradition and when we visited McCrady’s, as described above, we ate the course described “Charleston Ice Cream”. A member of our table, actually Charleston born and raised, was off put by the lack of real ice cream, but when he took a bite of the simple plate with laurel-infused rice with microgreens, there was nary a complaint.
The thing is that you start with a nice bit of Charleston Gold rice and you cook it simply and what you get is so drastically different from what I know as rice. I tasted tea and nuts instead of nothing. While it doesn’t hurt, you don’t have to be in the McCrady’s kitchen to experience the difference either. It is as easy as…well, cooking rice.
I have, for many years, been a boil-and-strain rice maker, but the added step of oven drying gives the rice a far better texture. Each grain is a distinct bit of food. No clumps or gloppy rice. Then adding butter as the rice dries just makes this dish the star. This rice is different and it is better. (See recipe here)
After getting strong laurel flavors from the dish at McCrady’s, I went off-recipe briefly to add the bay lead in the boiling process and was rewarded. The method, simple and precise, but I almost want to test whether it is the method or the rice which made it so delicious. Or a little of both.