This week, The Perennial Plate is covering the most Minnesotan of all topics — wild rice. It is an epic food: delicious, full of nutrients and tradition. However, I’ve never really been fond of the stuff until recently, perhaps because I’d always eaten the cultivated “wild rice” that takes forever to cook and tastes like nothing. But, since trying hand-harvested wild rice, I’ve put it on almost every menu I’ve cooked in Minnesota.
Most wild rice that you see at the store is not, in fact, wild. Although it is the Minnesota state grain, after the University of Minnesota developed a hardy strain that could be produced and harvested in paddies, California has become the largest producer. Despite the product being anything but wild (and grown elsewhere), it can still be labeled as “Minnesota Wild Rice.”
The flavor of the two rices are incomparable, as are the prices. Hand-harvested wild rice costs between $10 and $15 per pound, as much as rib-eye — and worth it. Not only is the flavor superior in every way, but the process is to be admired. The rice is ripe enough to harvest for only three or so weeks out of the year. During that period, the harvesters — primarily Native Americans — go out two to a boat and painstakingly hit the grains into it. That rice can be processed by machine, but many choose to do it by hand.
In this video, Mushkooub shows me how to rice and explains this time-honored process: