Creamy wild rice soup with ham is warming and comfortable. Perfect for a fall or winter meal with crusty stout bread.
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.
What is Wild Rice?
When it comes to wild rice there are two kinds: true wild-grown hand-harvested rice and then there is cultivated wild rice.
Wild Grown Rice
Wild grown rice is just that, it’s rice that is natural to the lake or river and it’s hand-harvested like it was centuries ago by the northern Indian tribes.
Wild rice is really a wild aquatic grass that grows in cold water. Minnesota, with its numerous lakes, and Canada with thousands of lakes, 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 1960s, 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 of water, and didn’t shatter as readily as the wild plant seed.
Shattering is the dropping of the seeds in the wind and high waves. Any wind storms when the rice is getting ready to be harvested will dramatically reduce the number 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 the 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 had. I never realized that there was such a difference in the 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 between 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.
It is 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 or more.
The more tender grain hand-harvested wild rice is browner in color and 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 online and know you are getting good wild grain. I’d opt for the hand-harvested stuff. Currently at $15.99 a pound.
Mary Jo called them up and she found out that Kowalski’s grocery stores in the Twin Cities buy from them and package 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 of pounds to bring home when she flew up there in January.
Ingredients in the Soup
Along with the wild rice which gets cooked, we’ve got sauteed onion, celery, and carrots. This is the base of the white sauce which is developed with flour which is thickened in chicken broth.
The cooked, cubed ham is added once the soup has thickened along with the cooked rice and half and half.
Finally, add a bit of dry sherry to the soup, then taste to adjust the salt and pepper.
So that’s the wild rice soup with ham lesson of the day. If you can find the true wild stuff, by all means, use it, or order some online.
You will truly see a difference in the texture and flavor.
And be sure to try these tasty recipes:
- Instant Pot Vegetable Wild Rice Soup
- Pan-fried Honey and Sesame Glazed Salmon
- Cold Tuna Salad for Hot Summer Nights
- Awesome Au Gratin Potatoes
- How to Grow Alfalfa Sprouts
- 3/4 cup uncooked wild rice , (yields 2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked)
- 1 medium yellow onion , diced
- 1 cup diced celery , (2 stalks)
- 1 cup diced carrot , ( 3 medium)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup diced ham , (10 to 12 oz.)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 cup half and half
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- Rinse rice under running water in a strainer.
- Cook the rice in 2 1/2 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
- Substitute chicken for the ham. A cooked rotisserie chicken from your grocer would be excellent.
- The dry sherry can be skipped, but it adds a smoothness to the soup.