Smoked Oyster Rice Dressing
- 2-3 tablespoons chicken or bacon grease or canola oil
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 bunch green onion, whites and greens sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz can chopped Hatch green chiles*
- 5 sprigs’ worth of thyme leaves
- 3 3- oz cans smoked oysters in oil with red pepper, if possible
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ tablespoons poultry seasoning
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups hotcooked long-grain rice (preferably made with chicken stock and a bay leaf)
- Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the celery, the white parts of the green onions, garlic, green chiles and thyme until the onion and celery are quite soft.
- Meanwhile, coarsely chop the oysters into bite-sized pieces. Add to the celery mixture along with the oil, as needed to grease the pan and the red peppers if present. Cook 1-2 minutes then add the rice and seasoning. Stir to evenly coat the rice in all ingredients and continue to saute for about 5 additional minutes.
- *or dice up a fresh cubanelle. The peppers at my supermarket looked like they were from a Dickens novel so I went with what I had on hand.
This originally appeared early in the pandemic in a preserved fish project but I am sharing it here, now. We have gone back to visit my dad in person but, of course, are still Covid-cautious three years later and things aren’t going as well as one might hope! I’m still having trouble getting basic ingredients at the supermarket and relying on canned goods.
Like so many of us, I’ve been thinking about what to do for the winter holidays during this seemingly endless pandemic time. I’m making a traditional meal on Sunday and taking some to my dad so he has something to eat on Thanksgiving even though he has to be alone but I’ve been interested in reading what everyone else is doing.
An all-side dish meal was brought up, and it does seem tempting but tricky for two people unless you want a very limited number of sides or a tremendous amount of leftovers. Someone mentioned how much they would miss their grandmother’s rice dressing this year because they wisely weren’t getting together but it was extra special because for Thanksgiving and Christmas she makes it with oysters instead of sausage or ground meat.
Now, I have heard all versions of this but what I was always told was that the difference between the more commonly known dirty rice and rice dressing is that dirty rice uses offal like liver (giving it a “dirty” appearance), and is spicy hot but rice dressing is milder and made with sausage or seasoned ground meat. I am not from Louisiana so don’t come at me if this isn’t true! In researching this, I’ve seen some references that insist there is no difference and it’s just a regional name preference, some that say the difference is what I outlined above, and still others who say that dirty rice is just a type of rice dressing (if so, are there more?). I don’t know! I will say I have only once seen a dirty rice recipe that called for fresh oysters but I’ve seen a ton of “rice dressing” recipes that do.
Since having an all sides Thanksgiving really won’t work for me, I’ve been making more festive sides all week to amuse myself. When I’ve had rice dressing it’s mostly been on the side of barbecue but it is a staple at a lot of Southern holiday tables. With good reason! It’s simple to make (simpler than dirty rice, if you ask me), the base can be made ahead and frozen–just defrost it, heat it through and toss it with fresh hot rice, and if you have a rice cooker, you can use that and not worry with another pan on the stove. Since this is a tinned fish Patreon, I decided to make it with smoked oysters instead of fresh. This is perfect for pandemic cooking! The only fresh ingredients here are real basics. Does anyone still have their pandemic scallions going? Put them to use here.
If you haven’t had them, smoked oysters are deeply savory, shelf-stable (the expiration date on mine was 2024), and come in their own smoky oil. Two of the tins I used were smoked oysters with peppers and came with a tiny pepper nestled inside that added a little heat. Plain is fine too. Each tin was under $2 so the dish was much more affordable than it would have been made with fresh oysters. I love smoky flavored things so this was perfect for me. The flavor of the oysters and the fragrant oil really coated the rice and made the whole dish feel rich and decadent without being heavy. The green onions added the needed pop of freshness and color. I loved it. I served it with some chicken thighs (I rendered some of the fat and used that in the rice) but it would be lovely on a holiday table. Honestly, it’s quick enough for a weeknight too if you have a big family. Just make it! You won’t be sorry you did and it really makes the most of smoked oysters which have a texture and flavor quite different than that of fresh.