This week I’m featuring a recipe for “authentic” “Cajun Dirty Rice.” What is so special about “Cajun Dirty Rice”? When this recipe is made properly, it is absolutely delicious. Long ago, I worked in a small town outside of Baton Rouge. Upon leaving work, I would drive out of my way just to purchase a helping of “Cajun Dirty Rice” from a local fried chicken joint, “Danny’s Fried Chicken.” It was that good. This is one of those recipes which you will probably never find outside of Louisiana but it epitomizes Cajun cooking to me. It is full of the “Cajun Holy Trinity” of vegetable seasonings, fluffy long grain rice, meat, green onions and spices — yes, this dish can be quite “hot.” The mixture is slowly cooked on the stove to blend the flavors. It reminds me of a “jazzed-up” rice pilaf. This recipe does include two “secret” ingredients which make it unique. Read on.
Where to find “Authentic Cajun Dirty Rice”
I checked my “Google Map” app and found that the Danny’s Fried Chicken restaurant is no longer is in business in the Baton Rouge area. Unlike other Louisiana fried chicken fast-food chains, this restaurant did not multiply across the country. It is a family owned restaurant with just several branches. The closest restaurant currently open appears to be in Morgan City in the heart of Cajun country. I was able to contact the owner, and she confirmed that her father and grandfather owned and operated the original Danny’s Fried Chicken restaurant. And, of course, she did not want to share the family secret recipe of Danny’s “Cajun Dirty Rice.” So, if you are ever visit the Deep South Cajun parishes of Louisiana and Morgan City — make sure you stop in at “Danny’s Fried Chicken” for the best version of “Cajun Dirty Rice.”
Both Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and the Churches Chicken fast-food chains originated in Louisiana. At times, they included “Cajun Dirty Rice” on their menus Although tasty, their recipes are just not the same as the one from Danny’s Fried Chicken.
Recipe and Secret Ingredients
To make this recipe, the “Holy Trinity” of seasonings — chopped onions, bell peppers and celery (and lots of garlic) are sautéed in a large, heavy pot. Long grain rice is added, spices, browned meat and broth. Then the seasonings are adjusted. Parsley and lots of green onions are added. The quantities of the seasonings and types of meat can be varied as well as the spices. It is an adaptable recipe. This is Cajun cooking at it’s best.
Here are the secret ingredients. For an “authentic” version, the recipe must include both chicken gizzards and chicken livers. Other meats are often added such as ground beef, ground pork or pork sausage.
What? Chicken gizzards and livers? Before you can say “yuck,” don’t skip these two ingredients. They are stars of this recipe and make it unique. Per folklore, Cajun families did not want to waste any scraps of food. So these giblets — organ meats — were added to the rice along with other seasonings and bits of meat.
And I had to drive to three grocery stores to find these chicken livers and gizzards. I finally located them in the frozen section compartments at one store. What, no chicken livers? I have no idea why there is a shortage of this ingredient.
Making the Recipe
There are two approaches to making this recipe. The first is to brown the meats and sauté the seasonings, then add raw long grain rice and chicken broth. This cooks on the stove until the rice is done. The second approach is to cook the rice separately, then add the cooked rice after all the meat and seasonings are sautéed and cooked. Although the differences are trivial, the resulting dishes taste slightly different.
I concurred with my friend with Cajun background, Marie, as to which approach to take. We both agreed that a traditional approach which means cooking most of the ingredients individually is best. (Several steps can be done simultaneously.) This is not a 30-minute dish in preparation time. It takes time and it not a recipe which I would make every day. This recipe is a “process.” Let’s get started.
The best — and only — rice to use in this recipe is long-grain rice. When cooked, It produces “fluffy” rice. Many brands are available. Marie prefers Zatarian’s brand. I used Cajun Country rice. Let’s get the rice steaming — 2 cups of rice, 4-1/4 cups water and 1 tsp salt. After the rice comes to a boil, cover tightly with a lid, turn the burner to very low and steam. It takes about half an hour to steam. This makes a large batch of “Cajun Dirty Rice.” Set the rice aside when it is finished cooking.
If you purchase a whole turkey or chicken, you may find a packet tucked inside the cavity of the bird containing the giblets: the neck, gizzards, liver, heart and perhaps kidneys. However, my recipe uses one cup each of chicken gizzards and livers and I needed a larger package; hence the grocery store “treasure hunts.” I used half of the pint containers and froze the remainder. In this process, I cooked the gizzards separately (along with a chicken neck) in a small amount of water for about 30 minutes. I added a chicken bouillon cube for flavor. This made a tasty broth, which I also used in the recipe. The gritty gizzards were tenderized during the cooking. I reserved the broth, and chopped the cooked gizzards in a food processor to make very small pieces.
For this recipe, I used a heavy 6-quart Dutch Oven. The chicken livers can be browned directly in this heavy pot. It only takes approximately 5 minutes to brown the livers (in a little oil) on both sides. They can still be pink in the center. Then I ground these up in the food processor.
The next ingredient in the recipe is ground pork which is browned in the Dutch oven.. Some recipes substitute and/or add ground beef. It is up to the preference of the cook as to which to use. Notice that I am using ground pork and not sausage.
This recipe uses lots of vegetable seasonings — onions, celery, bell pepper –referred to as the ‘Holy Trinity” of Cajun seasonings. Although garlic is not part of this trio, it certainly should be included. I also included a jalapeno pepper and a “Big Jim” pepper from by garden to increase the “hotness” of the dish. Since I had my food processor out, I used it to chop each vegetable seasoning individually. (I actually did this step at the very beginning of my process before grinding the gizzards and livers.) You do not want these vegetable seasonings pureed — rather just small dice. It is easier to chop each vegetable individually to get the right blend.
Finishing the “Cajun Dirty Rice” — Putting it all together
Add all the chopped vegetables to the browned pork. Stir and let this cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Now add the chopped gizzards and chicken livers. Then comes the cooked rice along with about half a cup of the reserved broth. If it seems too dry, add more broth.
Stir, taste for seasonings. Add just a few red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper, if you wish. These are optional — since I included a jalapeno pepper, this dish is already “hot.” Add salt, if needed, and black pepper. Add the green onions and fresh snipped parsley. Turn the burner to low, cover and let the dirty rice simmer for about half an hour. Taste again.
Time to eat! You have just made authentic “Cajun Dirty Rice.” And the name, “dirty rice”, comes from the color of the gizzards and chicken livers. It all makes sense now. This dish, which is traditionally served with fried chicken, is delicious. Enjoy!
Did I ever answer why this recipe is “authentic?” Actually, there are as many variations to this recipe as there are cooks. And all are “authentic.” This recipe is a process with layers of flavors added one at a time. It is about the enjoy of cooking. If you follow along with the steps in this post, then your recipe will turn out like a traditional Cajun recipe, even if you changed up the ingredients. It is your recipe now!
Authentic Cajun Dirty Rice
- 2 cups dry long grain rice
- 4-1/4 cups water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large onion
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (NOTE: may substitute Big Jim or other slightly hot pepper)
- 2 stalks celery
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/2 lb (approx 1 cup) chicken gizzards
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1/2 lb (approx 1 cup) chicken livers
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 tsp salt (optional)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 1 small bunch parsley, minced
Method and Steps:
- Cook long grain rice: Place dry rice in large pot with 4-1/4 cups water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to boil. Cover and immediately turn burner to very low. Let rice steam for 30 minutes. Remove from stove and set aside.
- Prep vegetables: Peel and cut onion in chunks. Place in large food processor bowl and pulse several times to coarsely chop. Transfer to another bowl. Do the same with the bell pepper and jalapeno peppers (or substituting one Big Jim pepper). Cut celery in 2″ pieces, add garlic cloves and pulse until finely ground. Transfer to same bowl.
- Prepare gizzards: Place chicken gizzards in small pot with 1 cup water. Bring to boil, then turn burner to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from stove. Remove gizzards, reserving stock. Transfer gizzards to same food processor bowl as used for vegetables. Pulse to finely chop gizzards. Transfer to anther small bowl.
- Prepare chicken livers: Add oil to large, heavy pot, such as 6″ quart Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat. Add chicken livers. Fry, turning once, until livers are brown and cooked through (they may still have slight pink color). Transfer to food processor bowl and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to small bowl with gizzards.
- Add the ground pork to the large, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook and stir until pork is browned.
- Add all the chopped vegetables to the pot with the ground pork. Cook and stir over medium heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the cooked rice and 1/2 cup reserved broth. Stir to completely blend in the rice. If the mixture is dry, add an additional 1/2 cup broth.
- Add the seasonings — black pepper and red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasonings, as well as salt, if needed. If desired, add cayenne pepper.
- Add the chopped green onions and minced parsley. Stir again.
- Cover the dirty rice and turn burner on stove to low. Gently cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste again — just to make sure!