Is wild rice a Minnesota thing? I’d never heard of wild rice until I moved to Minnesota from Illinois when I was in college. And, funny thing, years later when I worked at the Post Office, come December, people started mailing little goody packages to their out of state friends. They would tell me, “you’d never guess what I’m mailing.” And with a straight face I’d say, “Wild rice!” They were dumbfounded that I would guess that. This probably happened a hundred times over the years. Minnesotans love their wild rice and like to share it. So today I’m sharing some wild rice tips and a recipe for creamy ham wild rice soup.
When it comes to wild rice there are two kinds: true wild grown rice and then there is cultivated wild rice.
Wild grown rice is just that, it’s rice that is natural to the lake or river and it’s generally hand harvested like it was centuries ago by the northern Indian tribes. Wild rice is really a wild aquatic grass which grows in cold water. Minnesota, with it’s numerous lakes, and Canada are the main suppliers of this true wild rice. Annually, there are around 4 million pounds of rice produced from Minnesota and Canada.
Back in the 1960’s, people started to experiment with and produce farm raised wild rice. To do that, they had to produce a plant that was predictable, grew in a certain depth water, and didn’t shatter as readily as the wild plant seed. Shattering is dropping of the seeds in wind and high waves. Any wind storms when the rice is getting ready to be harvested will dramatically reduce the amount of seeds available for harvest. Through selective breeding, the commercial growers have come up with a more shatter resistant seed. This is a seed with a tougher hull and a distinctive dark color.
So which is better? My neighbor across the street, Tom, and I often share food we’ve prepared. One day I took him an appetizer I’d made that contained wild rice. About 45 minutes later, Tom came over and had to teach me about true wild rice. He even brought over a baggy full of wild rice that he has. I never realized that there was such a difference in quality of wild to cultivated rice. In Minnesota we always got the good stuff. In Florida, all you can find is cultivated rice. In the photo above, you can clearly see the difference in the two. Tom, it turns out, has a relative in Aitkin, Minnesota that produces true wild rice and he would help out with the harvest, curing and parching of the seeds. Quite a process and Tom really knows his wild rice. I showed him my cultivated seeds and he said, “that’s not wild rice.” We then looked at his wild grain and immediately saw the difference. The commercial stuff is very hard and therefore takes a long time to cook, usually about 45 minutes. The more tender grain wild rice will cook in 15 minutes and have a fluffier texture, and the flavor is much better.
Tom gets his wild rice from KC’s Best, out of Bemidji, Minnesota. You can purchase their wild rice on-line and know you are getting good wild grain. I’d opt for the hand harvested stuff. Mary Jo called them up and she found out that Kowalski’s grocery stores in the Twin Cities buys from them and packages their own label, hand harvested wild rice. Lucky if you live up north in the frozen tundra! (That would be Minnesota). Mary Jo picked up a couple pounds to bring home when she flew up there in January.
So that’s the wild rice lesson of the day. If you can find the true wild stuff, by all means use it, or order some on-line. You will truly see a difference in the texture and flavor. I made creamy ham wild rice soup, but you could substitute chicken for the ham. We just happened to have the ham to use when I made this. The taste is excellent and it really is a nice treat.
- ¾ cup uncooked wild rice, (yields 2 to 2½ cups cooked)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup diced celery, (2 stalks)
- 1 cup diced carrot, ( 3 medium)
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup diced ham, (10 to 12 oz.)
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 cup half and half
- ¼ cup dry sherry
- Rinse rice under running water in a strainer.
- Cook the rice in 2½ to 3 quarts boiling water, 12 to 13 minutes, until softened, drain and set aside, (cook according to package directions for cultivated rice)
- Melt butter in a 5 quart pan or dutch oven and add onion, celery and carrots.
- Cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat.
- Add the flour and stir in well and cook while stirring 1 minute
- Gradually add the broth while whisking and bring to a boil and whisk until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes
- Stir in wild rice, half and half, salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes
- Remove from heat and stir in dry sherry
- Serve this delicious soup hot
The dry sherry can be skipped, but it adds a smoothness to the soup.