“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”
-Mark Twain

When a package of Andouille sausage winds up in your refrigerator, you’ve got to figure out what to do with it. Jambalaya? Gumbo? Dirty rice? But what exactly is “dirty rice” anyway? I had no idea and the back of the package, although full of ideas, offered no concrete directions. Which is exactly how my friend the internet comes into our story.

Dirty rice, it turns out, is a traditional Cajun dish from southern Louisiana and Mississippi. And there’s really nothing “dirty” about it at all; its dirtiness primarily stems from the dark color of the meat that you’re supposed to use when preparing it: chicken giblets or liver. Interestingly, some companies and restaurants have tried to distance themselves from this name since it doesn’t exactly lead to the most positive culinary associations…To be honest, I can’t say I was necessarily enthused by the prospect of eating a dish with chunks of chicken liver. But then I stumbled upon an interesting sounding recipe–one that would satisfy my curiosity about dirty rice (without the chicken liver/giblets) and allow me to use up the Andouille sausage: Dirty Rice with Smoked Sausage and Okra. There’s nothing I love more than killing two birds with one stone.

I will admit, however, that I was slightly worried about cooking with okra. Besides eating this vegetable in Indian and Ethiopian food, I’d had little opportunity to experiment with it. Based on everything I read about it–how to clean it, how to choose good okra–I knew that I should expect some goo (read: slime; the products of the plant are mucilaginous, which, much like “dirty,” is not a word that you want to think about when preparing dinner), but that there were also ways to work around this. Cooking okra at high heat will reduce the goo; you can also minimize it by soaking the okra in salted water for five minutes (this was my chosen method), or water sprinkled with distilled vinegar. One positive of okra’s slime factor, at least in this dish, is that you want the broth to thicken; its natural texture will help the thickening process.

Ultimately, this was a great dish to make. It was spicy and flavorful, but without being overwhelmingly so. The mildness of the sausage, the bell peppers, onions (2 may be too much; this dish would hardly be hurt by using 1 onion instead of 2) and the novel taste of the fried okra combined to create something that was like a breath of fresh to my kitchen. It’s not everyday that, when cooking dinner, I get to feel like I’m in the Deep South. It brought back not only my recent Southern traveling adventures, but also the trip that I made (all the way back in 2005) to New Orleans with my two closest college friends before we graduated (more on that in the new post; you might consider this a two-parter).

All that was missing, really, was the heat. But considering the American South and east coast and Midwest all seem to be on fire these days (100 degrees plus is kind of intense and that’s an understatement), I’ll take my heat where I can get it–i.e. in the food–and happily accept the foggy, yet comfortable Bay Area nights.

Dirty Rice with Smoked Sausage and Okra

Slightly adapted from Gourmet, August 2004

Yields 6-8 spicy bowls

4 1/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups brown rice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb Andouille sausage links, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 lb okra, trimmed (discarding stem and blossom end) and thinly sliced crosswise
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Tabasco sauce, for additional heat

-Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, then add rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, covered tightly, over low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
-Remove from heat and let stand, covered and undisturbed, 10 minutes.
-Fluff rice with a fork and keep covered.
-In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté sausage in 2 batches, stirring occasionally, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per batch, transferring with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
-Add okra to skillet and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to another bowl.
-Heat remaining tablespoon oil in skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onions and bell peppers, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 5 minutes.
-Add garlic and sauté, stirring, 1 minute.
– Add okra, broth, black pepper, paprika, remaining 1/4 cup water, and remaining teaspoon salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and level of liquid is evaporated to just below surface of solids, 10 to 15 minutes.
-Stir in sausage.
-Toss sausage mixture with rice, and add salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste.

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