Our friend Dan is a gourmet cook. While I don’t aspire to such heights, I can follow a gourmet recipe if I have to. While Dan and I were talking food and politics one day, he asked for a piece of paper and jotted down a recipe for wild rice dressing that his father taught him. Like most experienced cooks Dan doesn’t work from a fixed list of quantities. Instead he starts with how much dressing he needs and adjusts everything to fit.
When I pleaded, he gave me some guidance. “Use about seventy percent wild rice to thirty percent brown. Cover the rice with a quarter inch of stock to start with and add more as needed. The sautéd meat and vegetables, walnuts and cranberries should total about a quarter to a third of the dressing. Use enough salt and spices to give you the flavor you want.”
Jerri’s grandmother’s recipe for pfeffernüsse has instructions Dan would understand: “Mix in enough flour so the dough is stiff but not too stiff, sticky but not too sticky.” You might ask, “How do you know you have it right?” The answer is, of course, make it a few times and you will know. And if you have baked a lot, you will have a better idea of when the dough is the right consistency.
Once we were all beginners in everything. We had to learn to walk, talk, read, write and calculate. The same is true for eating and cooking. As babies we were ignorant of any food except milk, but we learned to enjoy different foods as they were offered to us, many in the form of strained vegetables developed by Daniel Gerber in 1928.
Our ignorance of cooking lasted longer, since our parents kept us away from hot stoves and sharp knives until they felt we could be trusted with them. Eventually we learned to cook at least a few things, even if it was only mixing water with cans of condensed soup heated in a microwave oven.
The Christian apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians talked about how we grow up and learn new things when he wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I doubt that he was thinking about cooking when he wrote those sentences, but I’m pretty sure there were times when he had to fend for himself in the kitchen or camped out around a fire on one of his journeys along the Mediterranean.
There is no shame in ignorance. We are all born ignorant, but as Benjamin Franklin and others have said, the shame is in being unwilling to learn. So, if you have your parents’ permission or have left the parental nest, grab your pots, knives and other kitchen tools and tackle this recipe.
We are never too old to learn something new. And if you have never tasted good wild rice dressing, you are in for a double treat: learning how to make a particularly good recipe and discovering a delicious new food.
Here is what I did, and Dan approved of the result.
1 cup wild rice
1/2 cup brown rice
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 T butter
1/2 cup diced smoked pork shoulder or lean bacon
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped cranberries
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. powdered garlic
1/8 tsp. dried marjoram
1/3 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. powdered onion
1/8 tsp. paprika
Rinse the wild rice and put it in a one and one and a half-quart covered saucepan with two cups of stock. Rinse the brown rice and put it in a one-quart covered saucepan with a cup of stock. Bring each pan to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wild rice grains pop open and the brown rice is tender. Stir occasionally and add a little more water or stock if the rice appears to be drying out before it is done. It will take the brown rice about forty-five minutes and the wild rice up to an hour and a half to cook.
Make sure the wild rice is fully cooked. As Dan puts it, “When wild rice is fully cooked it will split the husk, the ends will curl and the rice will be about twice the volume of uncooked rice. The most important thing is that the wild rice is tender when you taste it. It must not be crunchy.” Set the rice aside and prepare the sauté. You can cook the rice ahead of time and transfer it to a storage container until you need it.
To make the sauté, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a small frying pan. Cut the meat into a quarter to half-inch dice and add it to the pan. Clean and chop the onion, celery and pepper into a quarter inch dice and add them to the meat in the pan. Sauté the meat and vegetables until they are slightly browned, remove the pan from heat and set it aside.
Chop the cranberries and walnuts medium fine.
Put the rice into a large mixing bowl. Stir the sautéed vegetables and meat along with the walnuts and cranberries into the rice. Add the salt and spices and mix thoroughly. Stuff your bird or bake the dressing separately in a lightly greased casserole at 350º for about thirty minutes to blend the flavors.
NOTES: Dan says that you can feel free to adjust the seasonings to suit your taste and that “you can’t screw it up.” My advice is to follow the recipe the first time and go from there.
He also told me that this dressing is delicious with smoked pork chops as well as poultry.
If you don’t have sea salt, you can substitute ordinary table salt, but I like to use sea salt in most recipes.