Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold.
~John Muir

A dried pantry must.

Wild rice is a grain harvested from four species of grasses from the genus Zizania. This now esteemed delicacy here has been historically gathered in both North America and China.

A pretender of sorts, wild rice is not truly a member of the rice family, although it is a grain producing grass, Oryza sativa, whose wild progenitors are Oryza rufipogon and Oryza nivara. They remain close cousins however, sharing the tribe Oryzeae. Wild rice grains have a chewy outer sheath with a tender inner grain that has a slightly vegetal flavor.

The plants grow in rather shallow and clear water in ponds, small lakes and slow flowing streams. Rising above the water surface, the flowering head is rooted in soft, mucky sediment with clusters of green, ribbony leaves which are tapered and float on the surface with stalks growing some 3 to 10 feet tall. The grain is eaten by ducks and other aquatic critters (as well as humans, of course).

Three species of wild rice are native to North America: Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris) is an annual plant native to the Great Lakes of North America, the aquatic areas of the boreal forest regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; Wild rice (Zizania aquatica), also an annual, grows in the Saint Lawrence River and on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States; and Texas wild rice (Zizania texana) is a perennial plant found only in a small area along the San Marcos River in central Texas. One species is native to Asia: Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia), a perennial native to China.

Difficult to grow commercially and notoriously tedious to harvest, it was reaped from boats in open water, using beating sticks to knock the mature grains into holding containers. Now though, much of these water grasses are actually cultivated rather than harvested wild. Like other grains, wild rice must be winnowed to separate the chaff from the grain. In the box or bag, this dried whole grain commonly comes from Minnesota or Wisconsin and is high in protein, the amino acid lysine and dietary fiber, and low in fat — second only to oats (quinoa was third) in protein content per 100 calories

This black gold seems underused in many kitchens and cozies well with roasted, sautéed, and grilled meats, poultry or fish.

WILD & WHITE RICE PILAF

1 C wild rice
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, peeled and minced
2 1/2 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of dried thyme, crumbled between finger & thumb
1 bay leaf

2 C long grain white rice
1 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 t olive oil
1 t sea salt
4 C chicken broth or water

Heat the butter in a small saucepan. Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, stirring. The onion should only sweat, become translucent, and not become brown. Add the wild rice and mix well, so that all grains are coated and they become somewhat translucent. Add the broth and the seasonings. Bring to a simmer, then cover tightly and cook for 50 – 60 minutes. For firmer texture, decrease cooking time, and for more tenderness, increase the cooking time. But, you should shoot for an al dente finish.

Try not to uncover the pan during the cooking process. Once the desired texture has been reached, remove from heat and discard the bay leaf. Drain excess liquid and fluff with a fork.

In the meantime, prepare long grain white rice (which takes less time). Place the rice in a large saucepan with the butter, olive oil, and salt, and chicken broth or water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and then reduce the heat to the low and tightly cover the saucepan. Again, try not to uncover the pan while cooking. Cook for about 20 minutes and the rice is done when small dimples or holes appear on the surface, sometimes called “fish eyes.”

Fluff the white rice, combine the wild rice and long grain white rice together, then serve this exquisite biracial mélange. Then again, you could present this firm-sassy-wild-black grass alone.

Pourboire: sautéed mushrooms or other suspects could be added to the mix.

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