Since long before Big Jones even opened, I’ve been looking for a reason and means to serve Savannah red rice, one of the iconic (and most historic) dishes of the Lowcountry. If you’re into cool stories, how’s this one – it’s now believed that the dish red rice arrived in Savannah with Sephardic Jews fleeing the inquisition in Spain during the 18th century. They brought with them the basic concept of the dish that now is a major footprint of Spanish cultural influence anywhere you find it on the globe – rice cooked with tomatoes. Once the seed was planted, it was a matter of time before the dish was Creolized, and salt pork was added in addition to other seasonings. Red rice dishes can be found in the Lowcountry, South Louisiana (Jambalaya,) Mexico, and beyond. It’s a beautiful example of a dish that ties many different people together through a common cultural influence.
We’ve never offered red rice before because when it’s done right, it’s so special that I really didn’t want to compromise it by making something to keep on a steam table. Now, with Lodge Cast Iron on our side and a family dinner format you can choose, we’ll make the dish the right way, starting it right when you order so that it’s ready in time for the main course, about thirty minutes. While we make red rice, you’ll enjoy a beautiful fish gumbo and cracklin’ cornbread to whet your appetite. Savannah red rice is best made in a cast iron kettle and taken straight from the stove to the table, which is how we’ll do it. In keeping with centuries of Lowcountry tradition, we will be using Carolina gold rice, plus house made sausages and smoked bacon.
The occasion is our new Family Meal based on Ben Green Cooper’s self-published treasure, Savannah’s Cookin’, from 1967. Most of the receipts in the book date from far earlier, as Mr. Cooper was well on in years by this time, so a lot of the stories and receipts from the book date from before the first world war, with others right up to the sixties. A natural storyteller and gourmand in true Southern style, I so enjoyed his book (complete with four different preparations for deviled crab) that I thought this a great chance to both feature some interesting vintage cooking from Savannah, notably a chance to do red rice the right way and serve it straight from the stove.
If you have a hard time understanding why I get so excited about something that is essentially a rice pilaf, I’d say on the one hand this particular dinner isn’t for you, but I’d say on the other hand you absolutely have to try it because you may finally have a chance to see just how special the humble grain of rice can be. For the poor in many parts of the world, rice is everything. When you focus on it and make it all it can be, it’s a chance to transcend time.
This family dinner begins this Friday, December 9 and is a steal at $25 per person. According to tradition, we ask that the entire table participates.
Receipts of Ben Green Cooper, 1967
Lakeside Fish Gumbo
Wreckfish & Trout simmered in a medium roux with house-cured bacon and smoked sausage, served over aromatic rice
Skillet Cracklin’ Cornbread
Savannah’s Cookin’ didn’t include any bread recipes, so we’re adding a special preparation traditional to the Lowcountry. Local artisanal cornmeal, cracklin’, and scallions
Savannah Red Rice & Deviled Crab
Two of the oldest – and most prized – dishes of Savannah, both
prepared in the traditional cast iron cookware. Red rice made with Carolina gold, house sausage, and preserved tomatoes. The book has several deviled crab receipts; this one a la McGee’s Branch – gratineed with bread crumbs and lots of butter
Steve’s Meatloaf with Collard Greens
Slagel Farm beef and house ground Gunthorp Farm pork seasoned with peppers, onion, preserved tomato, and chiles. Ben Green’s
collard receipt epitomizes simple – only greens and smoked jowl
Baked Apple with Farmstead Cream
Ben Green discovered this delicacy at the Nonesuch, an all-night café on Broughton Street just east of Drayton. Simply top-quality local tart apples baked with brown sugar and served with cream.
Please join us for a delicious meal in the best traditions of Savannah Cooking.