Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris)
I started my journey into the wild a few months ago when I became curious about wild rice because it checks all the boxes for something to put on the planned buying list; lightweight, non-perishable, high nutrition and delicious.
I quickly learned that this little grain is not a rice at all and that most of the wild rice on the market is cultivated, so it isn’t really very wild either. Instead, wild rice is an aquatic grass with 3 varieties native to different parts of North America and bonus fact, wild rice is North America’s only native cereal grain.
Nearly all of the commercially available wild rice on the market is the cultivated variety with a tougher, glossier sheath. It is grown in man-made paddies that are first flooded and later drained for mechanical harvesting. But there is some wild rice on the market that is truly wild, self seeding and hand harvested from natural lakes as it has been for at a couple thousand years in Lake Superior area of Minnesota. Currently this truly wild rice sells for around three times the price of the farmed varieties.
I found many examples of both cultivated and truly wild rice online and because of the price difference, wanted to do a comparison. Before purchasing though, I took advantage of a local foodie connection and reached out to a friend in northern Minnesota to see which brands she trusted only to learn she buys local and direct, getting her supply of truly wild rice from the hand-harvester. While she had no advice to offer on commercially available brands, she did generously offer to share some of hers*.
I ended up purchasing a 1 lb. bag of each to try and as far as cooking goes, the truly wild version cooks in about 1/2 the time (30 mins) of the cultivated variety. They have both been prepared in plain water and water+chicken broth. Both were delicious when served hot with a little butter, reheated and served cold, tossed in salads and fajitas for extra protein and fiber. Since it is so flexible, I make double and triple batches to have cooked rice on hand throughout the week.
The first few times I made it I used the standard stove top method. But then I tried the Anson Mills technique and the results were beyond compare. This involves straining the rice just before it is done, spreading out in a shallow pan and placing in a warm oven to dry for 5 minutes then patting with butter and serving.
Whether truly wild or cultivated wild, I think this grass grain is on my table to stay!
* The wild rice pictured at the top of this post is some of the truly wild rice my northern Minnesota friend shared from her personal stash with me. The sheath is not the uniform mahogany of the cultivated variety and gives away its grassy nature. I am not sure which method was used to dry/parch this wild rice versus the varieties I have purchased, but that may have played into the cooked result. My 11 year old who knows nothing of the provenance of any of the wild rice that has been a staple on our table for the past few months declared this wild rice to be the best we have made.