How do you make Charleston red rice, a classic deep root recipe?

How do you make Charleston red rice, a classic deep root recipe?

Red rice

Active time:45 minutes

Total time:1 hour, 5 minutes


Active time:45 minutes

Total time:1 hour, 5 minutes


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“Red rice goes back to the old, old days — the days before me, my mom and her,” Emily Meggett writes in her new book, due out next week, “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island† Photos by Clay Williams illustrate the cooking life of Meggett, the 89-year-old matriarch of the Gullah community on Edisto Island, SC

The Gullah Geechee people of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia have a history that spans centuries – to a time long before the creation of a United States of America. They came across as enslaved members of West African tribes and eventually settled in the Low Countries. Because of their physical separation from the rest of the South and an almost instinctive commitment to preserving their roots, their culture lives on, and even thrives, in people like Meggett.

Meggett has lived in the Gullah community all her life and counts 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren among her heirs. For the first time, her recipes are now documented in a book that is part history and part living culture.

One of the grains that West Africans brought to America was rice, and with it they brought their know-how to grow it. Rice thrived in the Lowcountry thanks to their skills and remains a staple of their cuisine today.

“Red rice is a beautiful, earthy one-pot rice dish borrowed from the traditions of my African ancestors. Sometimes red rice is called Charleston red rice. Red rice really owes a lot to the enslaved Africans who brought their knowledge of rice and vegetable farming to the United States,” Meggett writes.

It may be a cousin of jambalaya and jollof, but red rice is its own dish. “Here at Edisto, Wednesday and Friday were fishing days. We had shrimp or fish with red rice so it was something to look forward to. In the past, you didn’t use tomato paste and sauce, but the tomatoes you planted in your garden. The tomato paste works just as well, though, and Gullah Geechee red rice is one of the best dishes you can eat,” explains Meggett.

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She notes that cooking red rice requires more skill than your average pot of rice. Tomatoes contain different levels of moisture, and if the liquid to rice ratio is not right, “it will come out like mush. If you have too much rice, you can add water, but the texture will be uneven. You can use your spoon to feel the weight of the rice and make sure it cooks evenly.

The finished rice should glisten red, each grain should be smooth with a hint of pork fat, but not lumpy. Still, Meggett is encouraging: “Don’t be intimidated by this dish – with well-seasoned vegetables, sausage slices, and perfectly cooked rice, you’ll have almost a meal to yourself. Oh, and if you put some fat in it? Now you’re talking.”

  • This is not traditional red rice without the pork >> but you can omit it if you like.
  • Want to skip the onion? >> Use more celery or paprika instead.
  • I haven’t tried this with brown rice >> but if you like, consider soaking the brown rice in water for a few hours before cooking, to speed up the cooking process.

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  • 3 thick slices of bacon or about 3 ounces cured pork, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces), diced
  • 1 bell pepper (any color), diced
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 8 ounces smoked pork sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds or chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon Nature’s Seasons, sazonadobo powder or other similar salted spice mix, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup (about 6 ounces) long grain white rice, unrinsed

In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon or cured pork, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in sausage and cook until lightly browned, stirring if necessary, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, let it cover all the vegetables and meat, then add the water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and Nature’s Seasons or other spice blend. Taste and adjust spices if necessary. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently to prevent the rice from sticking, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat if necessary to maintain a high and steady simmer, and remember to scrape the bottom when stirring. Reduce heat to lowest possible, cover pan and steam, fluffing occasionally with a wooden spatula or fork, another 25 to 30 minutes, or until rice has absorbed all of the liquid and is light, tender and fluffy. Remove from heat and serve family style.

Per serving (2 cups), based on 4

Calories: 481; Total fat: 26 g; Saturated fat: 9 g; Cholesterol: 49 mg; Sodium: 732mg; Carbohydrates: 46 g; Dietary fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 15 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

Adapted from “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island” by Emily Meggett (Abrams, 2022).

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza and Kara Elder; e-mail questions to [email protected]

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