Anatomy of Rice Calas, Bitter Chocolate Sauce, Frozen Pinapple & Coconut Salad

This week, fresh off a trip to the land of beignets, boudin, and cracklins, I thought it would be good to highlight a rare treat that hails from New Orleans, and also happens to be on our Chicago Chef Week menu through Sunday – Calas! I like to bring Calas out for special occasions because they are well, special. Sweet rice fritters that were a common late-night street treat in the French Quarter in the 19th century, before the beignet juggernaut left them an obscure regional delicacy. Imagine a fermented dough recipe in 19th century New Orleans, before air conditioning. That yeast got some serious work out in the hot, humid climate.

In those days, a little bit of a day’s dough would be kept back as a starter for the next day’s calas. Over time, the local wild yeasts would dominate the starter, and you’d have a taste very unique to the local area¬† – what the French call terroir, because every local ecosystem has its own mix of wild yeasts, and they all yield different metabolites.

Why is this important? It conveys an idea that we have long tried to get across about our cooking at Big Jones: while we use a pantry stocked with a number of Southern ingredients, we also utilize as many locally grown products as we can (wild yeast being about as local as you can get) and many of these ingredients taste different when grown in Midwestern climes. We had the great pleasure of dining on Ponchatula Strawberries while we were in NOLA last week. They were great strawberries, but very different from the ones we will be using from South Haven and Benton Harbor, Michigan, and North Judson, Indiana. we think they are all delicious, but different. We always hoped folks would enjoy our cooking for what it is (and folks do, to be sure!) while understanding that it can’t taste exactly like it does in New Orleans, Charleston, or Atlanta. That’s part of the joy of eating during travels – the same foods taste different all over the world, and there’s a new discovery everywhere you go.

I’ll start with a simple method to help you achieve the optimal fermented flavor without going to the trouble of making a full-blown wild yeast starter (if you’re hard core enough like me to keep some around in the freezer, you should absolutely feel free to use it, but remember to make sure your starter is nice and hot, tips follow.) and at the end, if you want to take the plunge, you will find a formula for a wild-yeast starter you can make easily in your home, given five minutes a day for a week.

The dish is Rice Calas, Bitter Chocolate Sauce, Frozen Pineapple and Coconut Salad. Four recipes (five if you want to make the wild yeast starter,) a little simpler than the Mint Creek Farm Lamb Duet! This recipe will serve four gluttonous individuals, or 6-8 more modest portions.

Essential ingredients:

  • cooked rice
  • cane syrup (you can substitute honey or even white sugar if you must)
  • instant yeast (dry active will do in a pinch)
  • powdered sugar
  • unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground cloves
  • kosher salt
  • eggs
  • neutral vegetable oil for frying (or freshly rendered pork or duck fat if you’re really feeling it)
  • Bittersweet chocolate
  • cocoa powder
  • bourbon whiskey or brandy
  • cultured butter
  • strong coffee or espresso
  • heavy whipping cream
  • amber sorghum (light corn syrup will do in a pinch)
  • vanilla extract
  • fresh, ripe pineapple
  • shredded young coconut
  • granulated white sugar
  • young Thai basil leaves

Let’s start with the Calas:


  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 cup tepid water
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, or 1 cup wild yeast starter (remember to double fermentation time) you will also need to add and extra 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 ounce (two tablespoons) cane syrup or two tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten well
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • 1 cup plus two tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour

Place the cooked rice, water, yeast, and cane syrup in a container at least four times the volume (a two quart pitcher works well.) Cover loosely with cheesecloth (or a freshly laundered towel) and set in a warm place. This is best done overnight if you are prepping for brunch the next day, or started in the morning if you are thinking of dinner.) If your yeast is not freshly purchased or you are unsure it is still active, check back in an hour to make sure it is bubbling. Allow to ferment, undisturbed, for at least eight hours, twelve hours is better. Beat eggs well. Add the salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, and beat well. Combine with the rice mixture. slowly beat in the flour. At this stage, you might like to mash up the rice grains a bit. We like to leave them as whole as possible. Cover again and allow to ferment for one more hour minimum, two is better. The batter is ready. At this stage you can cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to five days, or use immediately. If you refrigerate, allow a few hours to come up to room temperature and reactivate before use.

Heat two quarts oil in a one gallon kettle to 350 degrees. Drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd. Cook for four minutes on the first side, gently turn with a long handled fork, and cook three minutes on the second side. Remove from oil and drain on a wire rack for one minute. You want to toss in the powdered sugar while still hot, but not greasy. Toss in copious powdered sugar. After plating, sprinkle more powdered sugar over the top. Serve hot hot hot. Right after starting the rice fermenting, start the pineapple salad, the pineapple will require time to freeze thoroughly.

Frozen Pineapple Salad

  • 8 ounces fresh ripe pineapple, free of core or rind, cut into 3/8″x1″ batons
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 ounces young coconut, shredded or very finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
  • fresh young Thai basil leaves

Toss the pineapple with the salt, 6-8 Thai basil leaves, and half the white sugar. Place on a silpat, or buttered parchment paper, on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in the freezer, uncovered. Freeze for two hours, then remove. At this point, the pineapple should be partially frozen (nearly complete) if not, return to the freezer. Once nearly frozen, drain off excess liquid, retoss in remaining sugar, clean pan, and put pineapple back in the freezer, uncovered, for a few more hours or overnight, until frozen solid. Transfer to a ziploc bag, separating any pieces that are stuck together. date the bag, and freeze for up to six months.

Toss young coconut in powdered sugar and lightly sift off excess. Place on a silpat or buttered cookie sheet in a 325 degree oven until toasted golden brown. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Bitter Chocolate Sauce:

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 2 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons strong coffee or espresso
  • 1 tablespoon good bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch kosher salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 Tablespoons amber sorghum or light corn syrup

Place all ingredients in a small stainless steel or enamel bowl over a double boiler and stir constantly until all ingredients are melted and combined. Serve warm, not hot.

To assemble the entire dish, you should be melting the chocolate sauce while you set up the frying kettle. You can also be warming plates in a low oven. Once the chocolate is melted, you can leave it on the double boiler but turn off the heat. Residual heat should keep your sauce warm until you are done frying the fritters.

Fry the fritters and toss while hot. Spoon some chocolate sauce onto a warm plate, add your calas, top with more powdered sugar. in a small bowl on the side, toss frozen pineapple with coconut and 12-20 very small Thai basil leaves, according to your taste.

Wild Yeast Starter:

This takes about five days, but in the end, you will be rewarded with enough starter to make many, many preparations of Calas, Sourdough Bread, Pumpernickel, or any other application for starter.

Day 1:

  • 1/4 cup organic dark rye flour
  • 1/2 cup room temperature filtered water

Day 2:

  • 1/4 cup organic dark rye flour
  • 1/2 cup room temperature filtered water

Day 3:

  • 1/4 cup unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup room temperature filtered water

Day 4:

  • 1/4 cup unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup room temperature filtered water

Day 5:

  • 1 cup wild yeast culture (product of the first four days)
  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 2 cups room temperature filtered water

On day one, mix the water and rye flour, making sure the flour is thoroughly hydrated. Place in a tall 1-2 quart glass or stainless steel container (clean vases or pitchers work well, but they must be glass or stainless.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature. Come back 24 hours later. There will be little, maybe some, rise in the dough, and it will smell a little funky, but still mostly like dough. Place in a clean mixing bowl and add day 2 ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Press down in the same tall container and mark the top of the dough with a piece of tape on the outside. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, leave in a warm place, and come back 24 hours later. The dough might have risen 25%, more is even better. It will smell a bit foul, but don’t sweat it, it will improve over the next couple of days. Remove to a mixing bowl and add day three ingredients, mixing well. Return to tall container, pat down dough, mark the top with tape, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 24 hours and return. Now the dough should have risen at least 50%, more is better, and the plastic wrap should be bubbling up. Keep your nose away when you remove the plastic wrap, it will be a strong smell! Add day four ingredients, mix well, pat down into the container, cover tightly with plastic, leave in a warm place, and come back in 24 hours. It should now have doubled in size (that’s why we started with the large container.) If it hasn’t check back every few hours until it has. The plastic wrap may have popped for all the gas. That’s o.k.

Now you have a tough decision. You only need 1 cup of your culture to proceed to making your starter. You can give away the excess to your friends with instructions for day 5 to make their own starter, or you can multiply the day 5 starter recipe accordingly and give your friends fresh made starter, or you can discard the excess.

Prepare day five and place in a container four times the volume of the wet, sticky batter. Leave at room temperature for one day, tightly covered, and return after 4-6 hours. It should have doubled. If not, check back periodically until it has. At this point, you can use it, or refrigerate it. It will stay potent for three to four days, depending on the weather and temperature in your house. I like to freeze it in one cup increments and pull it from the freezer as I need it. It needs a little food and 6-8 hours at room temperature to come back to life after freezing.

If you plan to bake every day, you can use half of the starter, and replenish it with fresh water and flour, and just keep it at room temperature. remember though, after 3-4 days, it will die, so you need to use/feed it 3 times a week to keep a room temperature starter active and hot.

Thus far, calas are the only wild-yeast preparation we make at Big Jones, but in the future, we may add more. If we do, I will definitely share the recipes. Baking at home is fun and very rewarding. The reason we bake so much of our own bread at Big Jones is that I believe no matter how good a bread is, when you take it out of its home, even next door, it loses something. This is especially true of wild yeast breads, where the bread is literally a living expression of the home that made it.