Wild rice (Zizania palustris L. and Zizania aquatica L.), are semi-aquatic plants that grow in lakes, tidal rivers, and bays, where the water depth is between 2 and 4 feet deep. Wild rice has grown throughout North America since ancient times, going back as far as 12,000 years ago.
It has been an important staple food for our ancestors. Their grains are long, slender, and black. They have large, erect, branched inflorescence which produce edible grains. To harvest these grains a lot hard hand work is involved. Historians and botanists have portrayed Native Americans harvesting wild rice by canoe. That is still the method used today. The ripe grain heads are hit with wooden sticks called “knockers”, so that the seeds fall into the canoe and are then “harvested.” It is interesting to learn that the size of these “knockers” are prescribed by state and tribal laws.
In the United States, wild rice that is produced for customers is mainly grown in California and Minnesota. It is the official state grain in Minnesota. In Canada, where wild rice is grown on natural bodies of water rather than in rice paddies, as in the United States, the largest producer is the province of Saskatchewan. Wild rice is also now grown in Hungary.
Besides being a good side dish to eat for Thanksgiving, along with duck and cranberries, wild rice is high in protein and dietary fiber. It is second only to oats in protein content per 100 calories. Quinoa is third. It is also great for a gluten-free diet, as there is no gluten in wild rice.
Wild rice is known for its nutty flavour. One of the basic uses of wild rice is as a simple rice dish to complement your wild game dinner. First wash the wild rice several times. I like to use a sieve for this and simply run it under the kitchen water tap. Remember that wild rice is a 1:2 ratio, meaning that for every cup of wild rice you will use two cups of water to cook it. Place your water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add your rinsed wild rice to this water, then cover with a pot lid and reduce your burner down to simmer. If you so desire, instead of using water, try using a fresh chicken stock. I do this by boiling a few chicken thighs in water until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the bones and meat, and use only the stock as you would water to cook the wild rice. Many folks might add salt and/or butter to make their wild rice more flavourful. However, I find that watching my diet, just cooking the wild rice in plain water, or chicken stock is just fine. It is all a matter of taste.
Wild rice, when cooked, fluffs up and the hard black, uncooked rice opens up to show its white inside. If you ever ate mixed white and wild rice, you will notice that the wild rice grains have not opened up, they are still black and closed. That is because your wild rice is not completely cooked. Remember, wild rice needs a longer cooking time than white rice, plus double the amount of water. Enjoy your dinner with wild rice and you will be gaining a healthier dinner.
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Wild Rice Cooking