February 8, 2021

Charleston Red Rice

A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee.

When you’re from South Carolina and take a beach vacation, more often than not, you seek out the smaller, less popular beaches to avoid the crowds and [cough] tourists. Growing up, our hidden coastal getaway was Edisto Beach which is in the heart of the Lowcountry between Charleston and Hilton Head. 

Traveling through Edisto Island to get to the beach (and well, in all of the Lowcountry), you’ll pass several little “boroughs” or communities that are too small to have an actual town name or zip code. At the most, these areas may have a traffic light, a gas station or a small local grocery store.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a gas station that has a fried chicken counter or a tiny diner attached. In most of the world, I imagine a gas station isn’t the best choice for eating out but in rural areas, they are home to some of the best local cuisine you’ll ever find. 

Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry

Growing up out in the country, the old Mini-Mart gas station in my hometown of Swansea, SC was our favorite for fried chicken and “taters” (huge seasoned, fried potato wedges). Sometimes we’d drive several towns over to Neeses, just to eat at the Piggly Wiggly which hosts a tiny restaurant with a “meat and three” menu and daily specials as good as any Sunday dinner around. 

The closer you get to the coast, the more likely you are to find Red Rice. There is a gas station on Edisto Island that used to have THE BEST red rice (maybe it still does!) and Mama recalls a grocery store diner near Charleston (also a Piggy Wiggly, I think) with amazing Red Rice too.

Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry

WHAT IS RED RICE?

Red Rice is a savory rice dish cooked in a tomato broth that’s seasoned with bacon (or other cured pork such as ham or smoked sausage), onions and bell peppers (sometimes celery too but not always).

Red Rice, often called Charleston Red Rice or Savannah Red Rice, ought to be called Gullah or Geechee Red Rice because it is a dish (like so many Southern favorites) that came to us from slaves. I just call it “red rice” but for internet search reasons I’ve named my recipe Charleston Red Rice.

The Gullah or Geechee are descendants of slaves who live on the islands and Lowcountry along the coast of the Southeast. I may be wrong, but my observation has been that Gullah tends to be used more in the Carolinas, and Geechee in Georgia (somebody please tell me if I’m getting that wrong).

Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry

For more information on the Gullah Geechee heritage and community, visit the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission or Penn Center, now a cultural center and museum, once one of the first schools for former slaves. 

You may take a look at this recipe and think Hey, that’s jambalaya! I get that a lot about Chicken Bog and Chicken Pilau but they are not the same. Lowcountry and Cajun recipes are very, very similar because, well, the ugly truth of the matter is that both these world-famous cuisines originated with the enslaved West Africans who were made to cook and grow rice for plantation owners on the Bayou and in the Lowcountry (both ideal locations for growing rice). 

Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry

A few searches online show me that there are many Red Rice recipes with shrimp and sausage that appear to be eaten as a main course (now, that’s seriously close to jambalaya!) but I’ve mostly had Red Rice made with bacon (or sometimes small bits of sausage) and it’s always been served as a side dish so that’s how I make it.

I served this Red Rice with Baked Blackened Cod. It’s also amazing with fried fish, grilled or pan-fried smoked sausage, any kind of pork chops or a plate of Southern-style cooked vegetables (with a hefty pile of crispy fatback, of course). 

Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry

NOTES ABOUT COOKING RED RICE

  • A lot of factors can impact how long it takes for your rice to cook (size and depth of baking dish, how hot the mixture is when it goes in the oven, etc.) so it may take longer than an hour to cook. Just keep checking every 15 minutes after the 45-minute mark and remember to keep that foil on there TIGHT or the steam will escape and your rice won’t cook properly.
  • When cooking this and any rice recipe, it’s important to measure precisely. Don’t use “heaping” cups of rice when measuring.
  • There’s no way to know how much liquid will be in your canned tomatoes. If after 45 minutes your rice looks a little too dry, add 1/2 cup of HOT water, fluff with a fork, cover and continue cooking.
  • Feel free to use more bacon! You can double it if you’d like! If you do, omit the butter. 
  • You can also use ham or smoked sausage to season the rice instead of (or along with) bacon. Consider adding bacon grease or more butter if you use only ham or smoked sausage.
  • Some folks add sugar to Red Rice. If you decide to, add about 2 tablespoons with the salt and pepper.
  • You can use chicken or vegetable broth instead of water if preferred.
  • Older recipes usually don’t include celery so I’m not sure how traditional it is. I add a little because I love the flavor combination. Feel free to omit the celery if desired.
  • Extra long grain rice is preferred for this recipe and is almost exclusively used in my neck of the South. I list “long grain” in the recipe ingredients in case extra-long isn’t available to you (they cook exactly the same). You can also use jasmine or basmati rice.
Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry
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Side Dishes, Rice
Yield: 8-10 Servings
Author: Mandy Rivers | South Your Mouth
Charleston Red Rice

Charleston Red Rice

A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee.
Prep time: 10 MinCook time: 1 HourTotal time: 1 H & 10 M

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups long-grain rice
  • 1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut bacon into 1/2-inch pieces then cook over medium heat in a large skillet until browned and crispy. Remove bacon to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan.
  3. Add onion, green pepper and celery then sauté in bacon drippings for 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic, butter and uncooked rice to vegetables then continue cooking and stirring for about 5 minutes or until rice starts to become slightly golden in color.
  5. Add reserved cooked bacon pieces, tomatoes (with juice), salt, pepper and water then stir well. Bring mixture to a boil then pour into a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish.
  6. Cover dish TIGHTLY with 2 layers of aluminum foil then bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Get the dish into the oven immediately so the boiling mixture doesn’t have time to cool too much.
  7. Remove dish from oven, carefully remove foil then fluff rice with a fork. If the rice still needs to cook a bit (it likely will – if not, replace foil and skip to the next step), replace foil then return dish to oven to cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Remove dish from oven and let rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork then serve.

Notes:

A lot of factors can impact how long it takes for your rice to cook (size and depth of baking dish, how hot the mixture is when it goes in the oven, etc.) so it may take longer than an hour to cook. Just keep checking every 15 minutes after the 45-minute mark and remember to keep that foil on there TIGHT or the steam will escape and your rice won’t cook properly.

When cooking this and any rice recipe, it’s important to measure precisely. Don’t use “heaping” cups of rice when measuring. 

There’s no way to know how much liquid will be in your canned tomatoes. If after 45 minutes your rice looks a little too dry, add 1/2 cup of HOT water, fluff with a fork, cover and continue cooking. 

Feel free to use more bacon! You can double it if you’d like! If you do, omit the butter.

You can also use ham or smoked sausage to season the rice instead of (or along with) bacon. Consider adding bacon grease or more butter if you use only ham or smoked sausage.

Some folks add sugar (about 2-3 tablespoons) to Red Rice. If you decide to, add the sugar with the salt and pepper.

You can use chicken or vegetable broth instead of water if preferred.

Older recipes usually don’t include celery so I’m not sure how traditional it is. I add a little because I love the flavor combination. Feel free to omit the celery if desired.

Extra long grain rice is preferred for this recipe and is almost exclusively used in my neck of the South. I list “long grain” in the recipe ingredients in case extra-long isn’t available to you (they cook exactly the same). You can also use jasmine or basmati rice.

Keep up with my latest shenanigans by following South Your Mouth!
Charleston Red Rice: A Lowcountry recipe popular from Charleston to Savannah, made from rice cooked with bacon and a tomato broth seasoned with peppers and onions perfected by the Gullah and Geechee. #redrice #charleston #gullah #southern #lowcountry


10 comments:

  1. Lovely recipe, GREAT site! I fell in love with this cuisine while visiting my cousin, who moved to S C with her husband for his business. I love the food, & the stories attached to their origin. I also enjoy watching Kardea Brown (Delicious Miss Brown) on The Food Network, whenever she's on. I've made many of your & Kardea's dishes for my family, and we enjoy them tremendously. Quite a surprise, coming from someone who's originally a New Englander, isn't it?

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  2. Love the recipe, can't wait to make it. Also, I want to thank you for the history and all the information about the recipe. This with out doubt was the most interesting recipe I have read and I will share all the info with others.

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  3. I'm reading this and seeing Swansea and Neeses... and wondering if we went to college together? I am USC class of 1980. Lived in South Building.... Go Gamecocks!

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    1. Hi, I totally forgot to respond to this! I'm so sorry!! I went to Columbia but our oldest is at USC now!

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  4. This looks a lot like Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice, which I live, but hate the way it can be overcooked and mushy in the blink of an eye. I am sure it is due to the pasta. I am excited to try this recipe. This is not a familiar dish with my SC family but we are from more of the piedmont area and did not get to the beach very often. I did make up similar a sidedish a few summers ago when I was looking to use an abundance of tomatoes. But it was just chicken broth, rice, onions, tons of garlic and tomatoes. It turned out pretty good! I can't wait to try this one with the addition of bacon and peppers! Thanks for sharing!!

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  5. Love the history on this dish! My SC family has shared with me about the Gullah and the traditions, but never any recipes. I'm excited to try this!

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  6. It's true that in the South some of the best local food is found in gas stations :-) The way I make red rice actually came from a BP gas station on Edisto Island, a recipe by a lady named Miss Daisy Brown. Yours is extremely similar so I'm sure it's delicious! Enjoyed your write-up & that you included some history of this recipe. Red rice could be an adapted descendant of West African jollof rice, a very popular dish there whose cooks are passionate about it. It has an interesting & ancient history of its own.

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  7. I'm from Charleston , S.C. and our friends refer to themselves as geechee .

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  8. My mother would cook her red rice in a double boiler. It was so good. We are from Savannah and she usually used fat back.

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Hi there! While I’m not able to respond to every comment, I try hard to answer any questions that haven’t been addressed in the post, recipe or in other comments.

I can tell you now 1) I have no idea if you can substitute Minute Rice or brown rice in my recipes because I’ve never used them and 2) If I know how to convert a recipe to a Crock Pot version, I will make a note about it (otherwise, I don’t know).

And though I may not respond to them all, I do read each and every comment and I LOVE to hear from you guys! Thanks, y’all! - Mandy