When you think of rice production in the South, you probably think first of Louisiana or Arkansas. Louisiana plants about 449,999 acres in rice every year, but Arkansas plants even more. Poor old Mississippi lags behind with just 185,543 acres in rice, but sometimes it's not how much you plant, but the quality of the harvest.
Most big rice farms grow a variety or two of rice, sell it to a big silo, the middle man, and then it is all combined and sold with generic names like long grain rice. There are 20 or 30 varieties of rice, with names like Catahola, Mermentau and Jupiter, but the consumer never hears of these and will never be able to taste the unique qualities of each.
There is a difference. Farmers look for maximum yield, disease resistance and other factors, just as the big silos and the mega corporations who buy from them do. But what about other factors that the consumer might be interested in? Taste, size, texture and thickness are factors the big guys never even consider. But there is a maverick out there. David Arant lives in Ruleville. He not only is steering his Delta farm, Delta Blues Rice, toward being organic (it takes a minimum of three years), he also is bypassing the middle man and selling his rice directly to restaurants and consumers (deltalbluesrice.com). Every step of the process, from planting to milling and packaging, takes place on his family farm.
The business motto is "feed the body, feed the soul." It seems a perfect masthead for a small artisan business, family owned for more than
90 years, producing small batches of a superior rice. You might also be surprised to know this farm produces three rice products: brown rice, which is whole grain, un-milled rice; white rice, which has been milled, and rice grits.
Rice grits also are made by other companies, such as Anson Mills, and can be found in specialty grocery stores.
PARMESAN RICE GRITS
1 cup rice grits
1 cup chicken stock
1-3/4 cup half and half, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pat butter
3/4 cup Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine 1 cup rice grits with 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup half and half, salt and butter, then bring to a boil. Stir once. Cover and simmer on low for about 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and rice grits are tender. Stir in 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and 3/4 cup half and half. Season to taste with rosemary, salt and pepper. Add additional half and half to achieve desired creaminess.
SHRIMP AND RICE GRITS
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup flour
1 quart warm chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1- 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined, and seasoned with Creole seasoning
3/4 cup Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese, plus more to taste
4 chopped green onions, divided
Creole seasoning, salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and sauté until tender, just 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes more. Add warmed chicken stock, one ladle at a time, until fully incorporated. To make sauce thicker, reduce the amount of chicken stock. Stir in cream and bring sauce to a simmer. Add shrimp and green onions (minus 2 tablespoons) and cook until shrimp turn pink. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Season to taste and serve over rice grits. Top each serving with remaining green onions and Parmesan.
This is as hearty a family meal as can be made. Serve it with a simple salad and a big red wine, and everyone will be content as they can be. This is a great wintertime meal.
ROAST BEEF AND RICE GRITS
1 cup rice grits
1 cup chicken stock
2/3 to 1 cup cream
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 rump roast
8-12 whole cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Make small incisions in the roast, insert the whole cloves of garlic, then season aggressively. Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 225 degrees F and continue roasting for 1 to 1- 1/2 hours. The internal temp should be 135 degrees when done. Combine the stock, cream and butter and bring to a low simmer. Whisk in the rice grits, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Plate the grits, slice the roast and place generous portions over the grits. If you like, combine more butter with the pan droppings, and a bit of red wine, to make a rich sauce.
Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes the Coast Cooking column that appears in Wednesday's Taste section. He is a food writer and photographer.