North Fork Chef: Wild rice is well worth the price

John Ross Chef Column
JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Duck Breast Roulades with Wild Rice Stuffing.

I seek a canoe
birch bark
still on the silk shore
of some broad Minnesota lake
in autumn
spice on the air
red-gold bittersweet twining
high among lakeside pines
water more green than blue
stiff/supple grasses parting
as we nose our silent way
to that center to which ancestors were led…

My paddle enters the lake
noiseless as sharpest knife
as my partner thrashes grasses
they bend to right/to left
filling his sweet lap
then our entire canoe
with brown black heads of rices
that have never been anything
but wild.
“But Wild”
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Wild rice is not rice but the grain of a reed-like aquatic plant of the grass family. Northern wild rice grows in shallow water in small lakes and streams surrounding the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. In northern Minnesota the Chippewa call it “manomin” (the good berry) and have been harvesting it for centuries. The Chippewa and other tribes consider it a “gift from the great spirit.”

To harvest wild rice, a canoe is pushed through rice beds with a pole while a “knocker” sits in the rear bending the stalks over the boat and tapping off the rice kernels. Later, the kernels are roasted in a cast-iron kettle to dry them out. The hulls are then tread on with the feet to loosen the kernels. Finally, they are tossed in the air to let the chaff blow away from the kernels.

Today, this kind of wild rice is called “organic” while other wild rice is cultivated in paddies and sometimes genetically modified to create uniform kernels. All wild rice is pretty expensive but very nutritious. It is high in protein, amino acid and dietary fiber. It is low in fat and contains no gluten. It also has a hearty, nutty flavor that seems the very essence of fall. Here are some recipes:

Duck Breast Roulades
with Wild Rice Stuffing

Remove the skin from a duck breast (2 pieces, about 1 pound total). Separate the halves and cut each half into two pieces horizontally. Place each piece between plastic wrap and pound them out with a cast iron skillet or meat mallet. You will end up with 4 thin cutlets of duck breast. Set aside and refrigerate.

Cook 1/4 cup wild rice in 2 cups boiling water for about 45 minutes. Drain and return to pan, cover and let stand. Chop 1/2 cup shallots and cut 2 carrots into 3-inch sticks. Add 2 tablespoons butter to a sauté pan and heat until the butter foams. Add the shallots and carrots and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Cut 6 sweet gherkin pickles into thin strips. Combine the cooked wild rice and the sautéed shallots.

Place the duck breast cutlets on a cutting board and spread 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard on each one. Sprinkle each with sea salt and pepper and place 1 tablespoon of the wild rice mixture in the middle. Place the carrot strips and gherkin strips on top of the wild rice. Roll up the duck breast into a cylinder and wrap in 2 thin pieces of bacon. Skewer with 2 toothpicks for each roulade.

Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brown the bacon-wrapped roulades on each side and remove. Pour off excess fat, leaving a coating in the pan. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/2 cup chopped carrot to the drippings and cook until soft. Stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste and raise the heat. Add 2 cups red wine and bring to a boil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

Place the roulades in a small casserole and pour the sauce over them. Cover and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook for 30 minutes and remove. Remove the toothpicks and place the roulades on a small bed of wild rice (there should be some left). Strain the sauce and check for seasoning before pouring it over the roulades.
Serves 4.

Wild Rice Pancakes
with Mushrooms

Boil 1 1/2 cups water and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup wild rice. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool.

Sauté 1/2 cup onion and 1/2 cup celery in 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1/2 cup sliced scallions and season with 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary and 3 chopped sage leaves. Combine the rice with the vegetables and set aside. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg with 1/2 cup milk and stir into rice mixture. In another bowl whisk 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder and fold into rice mixture.

In a large sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil and drop in pancakes with a 1/4-cup measure. Brown on both sides and remove to a warm oven. Add to the pan 2 more tablespoons butter and 1 cup each of sliced shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms. Sauté until brown and they have released their liquid, then add 1/4 cup Madeira wine.

Place the pancakes on a serving plate and pour the mushrooms over them. Season with ground pepper and coarse sea salt.
Serves 4.

Russian Golubtsy
(stuffed cabbage)
with Wild Rice Stuffing

With a sharp knife, remove the core of a head of cabbage. Boil 2 quarts water in a large soup pot and add the whole cabbage. Cover and let it cook for 3 minutes and remove to a colander in a sink. Carefully remove the loose outer leaves and set aside to drain. Place the remaining cabbage back in the boiling water and cook another 2 minutes. Remove and repeat the above process until most of the large leaves are removed intact. Chop the remaining core of cabbage and place in a casserole.

In separate saucepans, cook 1/2 cup wild rice and 1/2 cup brown rice until tender. (When cooking rice it is better to use lots of water, as with pasta, and cook until tender, then drain, than to measure exact amounts of water.)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add 1 cup chopped shallots. Sauté until soft and add 1 cup dried cranberries and 1 cup chopped prunes. Mix the wild and brown rice into this mixture and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Stuff the cooked cabbage leaves by laying them flat on a cutting board and placing 1/2 cup of rice mixture on each leaf. Fold in the edges and roll as tightly as possible. Place the cabbage rolls in the casserole on top of the chopped cabbage. It is OK to place cabbage rolls on top of each other.

Meanwhile, make a sauce by sautéing 1 cup chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter until soft. Stir in 6 chopped fresh plum tomatoes and season with 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Separately, beat 2 tablespoons flour into 1 cup sour cream and stir into the sauce.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage in the casserole, cover and bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with chopped fresh dill and serve.
Makes 4-6 portions.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].