Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Time for a great side dish: Wild Rice Pilaf

Here is one of my very few original recipes, not that wild rice pilaf has never been made before! My take on it is a slightly different in one important respect: it contains toasted pine nuts — and they make a very welcome addition to the overall woodsy flavour I was going for.

Wild rice is more familiar in North America where it is considered a delicacy. It also grows and is eaten in China, but there it's the vegetation and not the seed which the Chinese go after. Most of what is harvested and eaten in Canada is what’s called Northern Wild Rice. It grows around the Great Lakes in sheltered, but also in smaller lakes and slow-flowing rivers. First Nations and others are cultivating it by planting seeds in the shallow borders of small lakes — of which Canada has plenty. In the US, most of it is cultivated in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but the majority of wild rice available commercially comes from north of the 49th parallel.

It actually isn’t technically rice at all, just a close cousin. The outer husk is tough and requires a fairly long cooking time, while the centre is quite tender. It also needs water in a ratio of 3+-to-1 rather than the lesser amount rice needs. As I mentioned above, it has a woodsy, vegetal taste which is delicate and lovely.

Wild rice is rather expensive because it cannot be harvested in large amounts and this has to be done mostly by hand. This is accomplished by shaking the seed heads into the bottom of a canoe or special flat-bottomed boat. Fortunately the seeds fall out easily. The industry is too small for mechanical means to have been developed to any large extent. One good thing is any seeds that fall into the water  — and I imagine that’s a fair bit — sink, then germinate the following year, so wild rice is self-seeding. Also because it’s not really cultivated, you’re pretty well assured that your rice is organic.

Anyway, wild rice is a lovely thing to eat and we’ve always been huge fans. Because of the price, it has to remain a treat, but my recipe also helps out with that, although it’s a byproduct of what I was trying to achieve.

This is why you see brown rice in the ingredient list. It was my wife’s suggestion, but not so much to cut down the expense. We just love the wonderful nutty flavour of brown rice which works very well with the earthiness of the wild rice. Adding to this is the addition of sautéed wild mushrooms and of course the pine nuts. Thyme and bay seem to me the perfect herbs to use, but I’ve also used rosemary and sage with success.

All in all, this is one terrific side dish, not particularly difficult to make and a most excellent accompaniment to grilled meats. We love it with sauteed salmon filets with a lemon/butter/wine sauce (photo above) or even rainbow trout.

Rick’s Wild Rice Pilaf


1 cup good quality low-sodium stock (vegetable, chicken or beef all work well depending on what you’re serving with this)
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs minced shallots
1/4 cup wild rice
2 Tbs brown rice
1 1/2 Tbs butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms (wild if you can get them)
2 Tbs pine nuts
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp of salt
freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the stock until it’s nearly boiling.
  2. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil until it’s fragrant. Add the minced shallots and wild rice. (Don’t have the heat above medium! Shallots burn pretty quickly.) Cook, stirring gently as the shallots soften and the rice toasts. This takes 3-5 minutes. Watch the shallots so they don’t brown.
  3. Pour in the heated stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and salt, then cover tightly. Reduce the heat immediately so that the stock is just simmering gently. Cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms in the butter until they’re beginning to brown.
  5. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan (cast iron, if you have it). Stir them gently to brown them evenly. Watch that they don’t burn! You want a nice golden brown.
  6. After the hour and twenty minutes, add the brown rice to the pilaf, stir in, and recover the pot. Cook gently for an additional 40 minutes. If the pilaf looks a bit dry, add a tablespoon or two of additional stock or water.
  7. When that time has passed, check to see that both grains are cooked (not crunching but not mushy). You may find they need a bit more time.
  8. When the pilaf is cooked , all the liquid should have been absorbed. If the pilaf is done to your satisfaction and there is still a bit of water, simply pour it off. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
  9. Now stir in the mushrooms and pine nuts. Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Don't forget the pepper!

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

BREAKING NEWS! I wanted to make this for our dinner last night (arctic char and local green beans) only to discover that we were out of pine nuts. I did, however, have some walnut pieces so I substituted those, pan toasting them as I do with the pine nuts (although it took a fair bit longer) and pretty much make the dish as usual. The addition of walnuts was amazingly tasty. It’s going to require an A-B test in the future, but the pine nuts may well be on the way out. My darling cooking muse, the vivacious Vicki, has suggested I also try out toasted pistachios, and that also deserves a trial.

I will keep you all posted on this!