wild rice and thanksgiving



so, what is it about wild rice? a favorite food of the dabbling duck? manchurian wild rice from china? rice associated with north american tribal delights? - what do you know! it's all delicious, no doubt. so, there are mostly two kinds, wild-wild and organic-wild. just forget about the organic kind. but the wild-wild is just that, and it is the best: the northern wild rice, grown in a lakelet, in a lagoon or a sluice. northern minnesota is the place, saulteaux or ojibwe, are the indians who harvest this annual grass, likely still from the canoe, may be a square stern osagian, an aluminum hydrodynamic, alas, no longer likely from that sensuously tender birch bark canoe, that of mcphee fame.


at harvest, a small window of time between late august and early september, gliding into a  thick stand of plants and reaping ripe grain-heads with ricing sticks, flailing, to thresh seeds into the canoe.

looking through my collection of cookbooks i found little new ways of doing wild rice. one of my favorite chefs, david waltuck of "chanterelle", simply cooks the stuff for some hour and a half in refined chicken stock. on line i found wild rice pilaf, various casseroles, endless stuffing, some conjured up with pork sausage... "nutty" wild rice... cranberries and wild... martha even chimes in with a roast squash, stuffed with, you guessed it. all for thanks giving...

as so often my notions tend to stay with the simple, the unencumbered, you might even say the boring. so, here i present, sunday before thanksgiving, a lovely dinner for two, which incidentally just might suit your needs for that infamous thursday, when you have forsworn the in-laws, even close family, far removed uncles and dotty aunts. giving thanks for a year of reasonably happy days and nights, in the company alone of the one you love.

the rice, cooked on a slow simmer, about an hour, less or more depending on quality, origin and grain length. once fluffed i swirl in sweet butter.
my rice supposedly comes from the mille lacs indian reservation.

black cod or butterfish, pan roasted in grape seed oil, ten minutes on medium-high. fishbones are easier removed once the fish has cooked. splash the fish with a fragrantly nutty vermouth just before serving.

shitake mushrooms pan roasted in hazelnut butter.

cauliflower roasted in buttery bread crumbs.

place fish on a bed of wild rice, do mushrooms and cauliflower aside.

for me, as well as for some of those many others, thanksgiving is hued with various gales of family fiasko. a former first time father-in-law just had to show me his technique carving the turkey. table set, best linen and silver in place, family abound. the knife was dull, and someone forgot to log jam the table's inset. the judge pressed my hand on the knife, the turkey hardly yielded, but the table, it folded in half, upending the lot. cranberries, mint sauce, stuffing and silverware. dishes, wine glasses, the flower bouquet, all tangled sadly in linen. i got the look. mea culpa, i used too much pressure attempting to carve.

others might be more lucky, have sharper knifes or folk more forgiving. me, i stay away from such celebrations, preferring the small dinner for two, may be four, if those are friends, or lovers, no in-laws for certain.