Why is it that so much great food comes out of Louisiana?
Case in point, this "dirty" rice. It's a Cajun classic, and so good that the first time you eat it you'll wonder where it's been all your life.
What is Dirty Rice?
It's basically a rice pilaf that is called "dirty" because it's cooked with minced chicken livers or gizzards, which infuse it with crispy, tasty browned bits.
Why Dirty Rice is a Must-Try
If you aren't a liver lover, don't worry! The rice doesn't taste like liver, the addition just deepens the overall flavor of the rice, and the bits are so small you can't really distinguish them.
The Origins of Dirty Rice
Dirty rice can be traced back to the plantation days of Louisiana. Those who had many people to feed but few resources to feed them all added what they could get to the white rice that was abundant - chicken livers, spices, vegetables - and the resulting dish would look "dirty."
Over the centuries, the ingredients for dirty rice have expanded and now there are many versions of this filling Creole dish, probably as many as there are families in Southern Louisiana. So, anyone claiming that their family's recipe is an authentic dirty rice recipe is probably right, even if their recipes differ from the hundreds of others.
Cajun Seasoning Vs. Creole Seasoning
Cajun and Creole seasonings differ in their ingredients. A cajun seasoning mix is pepper-heavy with bell peppers, cayenne peppers, and other peppers of varying heats. It's hotter than Creole seasoning mix which is more on the savory side with various herbs such as oregano, basil, and thyme.
This recipe calls for Cajun seasoning, but if you have only Creole seasoning on your spice rack, you can use that. And, if you want a little extra heat, you can add some cayenne pepper to it.
Note that the salt content varies greatly by brand. If you’re worried about the rice being too salty, start with 1/2 of the 1 tablespoon called for in the recipe. You can add more to taste later.
How to Shop for Chicken Livers
Chicken livers may not appear regularly on your grocery list, but you should be able to find them in most grocery stores in the refrigerated poultry section. Chicken gizzards — a muscle found from the digestive track — are also traditionally used in dirty rice so if you're grocery store sells chicken gizzards but not livers, go ahead and swap them out.
Swaps and Substitutions
Dirty rice is highly customizable because it's a dish that originated from using what was available. Try some of these substitutions.
- Substitute chicken or pork sausage for the chicken livers. Or, add them in addition to the livers.
- Substitute ground beef or chicken for the ground pork.
- Substitute red bell pepper for the green bell pepper to add some sweetness
- Add extra jalapeño peppers or hot sauce for more heat.
- Substitute brown rice for the white varieties, following the directions on the package for the amount of liquid needed.
- Add black beans.
How to Store for Later
Refrigerate dirty rice in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Freeze dirty rice in freezer proof containers or freezer zipper top bags for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
More Classic Cajun-Inspired Recipes to Try!
- Shrimp Etouffee
- Green Gumbo
- Slow-Cooker Jambalaya
- Shrimp Gumbo With Andouille Sausage
- Red Beans and Rice
Cajun-Style Dirty Rice
Use green bell peppers if you want a relatively mild result. If you are looking for something spicier, use jalapeño chili peppers.
- 1 1/2 cup long-grain rice (Carolina, basmati, jasmine, etc)
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 cup chicken livers
- 3 slices of bacon, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper or 1-3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 2 green onions, chopped
Cook the rice:
Cook the rice according to the package instructions, but use chicken broth for one third of the cooking liquid. So, for example, if the package says to use 3 cups of water for 1 1/2 cups of rice, use 2 cups of water and 1 cup of chicken broth.
Once the rice has finished cooking, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
Turn the rice out onto a sheet pan and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over it. Mix to combine and let cool.
Mash or purée the chicken livers:
While the rice is cooking, mash and finely chop the chicken livers, or purée briefly in a blender.
Cook the bacon until crispy:
In a large pan that can eventually hold the rice plus everything else, put 1 tablespoon of oil plus the bacon in and cook over medium-low heat until the bacon is crispy.
Brown the pork and vegetables:
Add the ground pork and increase the heat to high. Allow the meat to brown before stirring. As soon as the pork starts to brown, add the final tablespoon of oil and add the celery, jalapeños, and onions.
Brown them all over medium-high heat. You may notice the bottom of the pan getting crusty. Keep it from burning by lowering the heat if needed. Add the minced liver and cook for a few minutes more.
Deglaze the pan:
Add the remaining cup of chicken broth and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Add seasonings and cooked rice:
Add the Cajun seasoning and turn the heat to high. Boil away most of the chicken stock and then add the cooked rice. Toss to combine.
Turn off the heat and add the green onions:
Toss once more to combine and serve hot.