Quintessentially Cajun: Rice & Gravy

Momma and Daddy once had a dinner date with Alice and Roy LeDoux, who had a farm a couple miles from our motel, down the road going to Church Point. Momma and Daddy made a point to eat out about once every other month, but for the LeDouxs, this was a rare occurrence. When she walked into the motel office, Mrs. LeDoux, who had had her hair done, and was wearing a sparkly green dress that she wore for special occasions, proclaimed, “I can’t wait to get to that restaurant – I’m ravishing!” (Momma would later report that, while she wasn’t by any means a learned woman, she knew Alice Ledoux meant “ravenous,” and had to bite her tongue not to reply something like, “Well, you do look nice, but are you hungry?”).

For Roy LeDoux – a quiet man who thought our town of Eunice (population circa 11,000 back in 1974) was too big for its own good – well Roy couldn’t be bothered all that much about any special occasion, but as long as he was gonna get fed, he’d clean himself up and get in the truck. He had on what I assumed was his Sunday church shirt, some khaki pants, and brown work shoes, probably his best pair.

My trinity: a mirepoix of coarsely chopped onions, garlic, bell pepper.

Momma had called in a reservation at Soileau’s Supper Club in Opelousas, about a 20 minute drive from the house. The plan was to have high-balls with the LeDouxs first, then head out in Momma’s Chrysler, with Daddy driving, Mr. Ledoux up front with him, and the two women in the back.

Soileau’s Restaurant was well known in the region, particularly for its seafood platter and steaks. The seafood platter (my fave because it came with stuffed crab, fried shrimp, oysters and other goodies, plus a nice piece of fried fish, french fries, and hush puppies – all for about $3.50 back then) was over the top, as far as the LeDouxs were concerned. But since this was a rare night out for them, they each got the platter, as did Momma. Daddy got himself a steak dinner with a baked potato.

When the food came, everyone dug in, except Mr. Roy. He looked a bit perplexed.

“Where’s the rice and gravy?” he asked his wife.

“I don’t think it comes with rice and gravy,” she said. At that, Mr. LeDoux called the waiter over and asked him the same question. When the waiter confirmed what Mrs. LeDoux had just told him, he was visibly upset, and demanded the man bring him a plate of rice and gravy to go with his seafood platter. Alice LeDoux turned Christmas red. Momma was once again biting her tongue, and Daddy was obliviously chowing down on his T-bone.

I sympathize with Mr. LeDoux. Rice and gravy – more-so than even gumbo, or étouffée, or jambalaya, or other more worldly, renown Cajun dishes, is a staple meal all over south Louisiana. Like those other dishes, each household has its own way to make rice and gravy, and it’s not uncommon to have chicken, pork, or beef rice and gravy in a household’s repertoire. It’s also not uncommon to have a “main event” meal planned – like a barbecue, or a gumbo, or even a Thanksgiving turkey – AND to serve a form of rice and gravy, because, well, it is expected to be there, just as a side salad or rolls or cornbread would be expected.

I made rice and gravy recently (although it was the main event, not a side dish, like Mr. LeDoux wanted). My recipe is simple: brown some meat, add the Cajun “holy trinity” of onions, celery, and bell pepper (for some dishes, I add carrots, and most often use garlic in place of the fresh celery because I don’t like the flavor once it’s cooked down. In its place I use a dash of celery seeds.)

Rice and Gravy, with sides of roasted zucchini with garlic, and cukes – all from the garden. (I added an over-ripe beefsteak tomato at the end of the gravy cooking this time. I don’t normally do that, but the tomato needed to be eaten or it would have been tossed into the compost bin. So this picture shows the gravy with some red in it – but typically it’s more brown or golden colored, depending on the meat you use.

RICE & GRAVY RECIPE
(So Mr. LeDoux never has to embarrass Mrs. LeDoux again)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb round steak or London broil (if you use more meat than this, you’ll need to upwardly adjust the following ingredients proportionally)
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped (yield should be at least 2 cups once chopped)
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (I prefer red, but green is popular for this dish)
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • Seasoning to taste (I make my own mix of red, black, white pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seeds, and salt)
  • 2 cups rice, prepared

INSTRUCTIONS

1 – Brown a nice piece of seasoned meat (beef is most common for this, but pork or chicken also work). Anywhere from a pound, to a pound and a half of round steak, London broil, etc. will work for this. The darker you brown your meat, the darker your gravy will be.

2 – Add the “trinity” (a mirepoix of onions, bell pepper, and typically celery, although I instead use a little celery seed, and add garlic in its place) and sauté it all until all the vegetables are beginning to brown without burning – about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat, add a cup or two of water (depending on how much meat you’re using) and cover the pot. Cook it all down on low heat for about 2 hours for beef or pork; less time is needed for chicken. Once the meat is falling-apart-tender, remove it from the pot, and cut it into cubes, then it return to the pot.

3 – Serve over your favorite white rice – follow instructions on the package. (Unless I want sticky rice, I use parboiled long-grain these days because it’s more foolproof, but you can use regular, medium-grained rice if you want a stickier result).

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