Comfort food from the American South: Dirty rice

Nobody does comfort food like the American South. Sometimes it swings spicy, sometimes sweet, often both. This is a blander dirty rice than my Southern friends talk about. Theirs tends to be much hotter. Mine is dense, rich, salty and savory, porridgey in texture, with just a touch of peppery zip.

This super-quick comfort food can be put together in the time it takes a pot of rice to cook. It can be made with ground beef. I prefer the liver version, but some people find liver horrifying. If you do use ground beef, get the fatty stuff, not fancy ground round. Animal fat is what makes this taste good.

Cheater step: don’t bother dicing the livers. Just wash ’em, put ’em in the pan with the butter and spices, and stir and mash with a spoon while they cook. You can also snip them up a bit with kitchen scissors during the cooking stage. Don’t go nuts. Some chunks are desirable. Also, super-fresh livers may disintegrate without much mashing required!

Jen’s Dirty Rice

1 cup rice (brown or white)
2 cups water or stock
3/4 lb. up to 1 lb chicken livers, washed and diced
8 Tablespoons butter (1 stick or ¼ lb)
1 T kosher salt
1 T sugar
1 T dried basil leaves or more
1 T powdered garlic (yes, because it tastes different from fresh)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 t powdered cayenne pepper
(optional) 1 t anise seed

Cook the rice in the stock with 2 T of the butter and 1 t salt. If desired, include 1 t anise seed.

Crush all the rest of the dry seasonings in a pestle until they’re aromatic. Put them in a large frying pan with the rest of the butter and heat the pan, melting and stirring the butter and seasonings.

Stew the chicken livers in the seasoned butter until they’re no longer pink. While they cook, using a fork, large spoon, or pastry cutter, smash the livers until they resemble ground beef in texture. You may want to use scissors to snip membranes. There will be some bigger chunks, which is fine. Do not put the livers in a blender or food processor. That way you will get liver butter, which messes up the texture of the recipe.

When the rice is cooked, mix it into the liver mixture. Serve.

You can make this with any kind of rice. I use white or brown Basmati, a nutty-flavored rice found in the Indian section of your grocery. Alternatively, try it with wild rice, brown rice, plain white long-grain rice, whatever. The magic is in the chicken liver and the butter. Don’t skimp on the butter.

I’ve been tempted to try this with a Masaman (mild yellow) curry powder and throw in a handful of soaked currants. That would get me lynched below the Mason-Dixon line, but you don’t have to tell anyone I suggested it.


Thinking of Southern comfort food reminds me of Tragesangre, a story I wrote for Louisiana Vampires, compiled by Lawrence Schimel and Martin H. Greenberg, Fall River Press, New York NY, 2010.

Maxine has been waiting tables at Kettle’s gumbo shop for thirty-five years. Suddenly she seems to be growing younger. This may save her life: there’s a granny killer out there, frightening old women to death in their homes. And Maxine gradually remembers that she’s been lying about herself…lying so long that she has come to believe her own lies. Will forgetfulness kill her or save her?

About Jennifer Stevenson

Jennifer Stevenson’s Trash Sex Magic was shortlisted for the Locus First Fantasy Novel Award and longlisted for the Nebula two years running. Try her fantasy series Hinky Chicago, which is up to five novels, her paranormal romances Slacker Demons, which are about retired deities who find work as incubi, or her women’s fiction fantasy series Coed Demon Sluts, about women solving life’s ordinary problems by becoming succubi. She has published more than 20 short stories.

Find Jennifer at the Book View Cafe blog, at the second row at fast roller derby bouts in Chicago, or on Facebook.