Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Red Rice (Arroz Vermelho) - A Weed Becomes a Star

Considered a weed in the world of rice cultivation, the red-husked variety of rice is leaving its sketchy background behind and becoming an object of culinary desire here in Brazil. Red rice has a long history in this country, and has always been appreciated for its flavor in the semi-arid regions of northeastern Brazil. Outside of that region, however, it's only recently begun to show up on diner's plates in high-end, chef-driven restaurants.

Red rice (called arroz vermelho in Portuguese, and also known in Brazil as arroz-da-terra and arroz de Veneza) first arrived in Brazil in 1535, in the state of Bahia. White rice arrived more than two centuries later in 1765. It's reddish coloration is a naturally spontaneous mutation of white rice, and a certain percentage of any crop of white rice will show this trait. In recent years, however, cultivators have been working to find a cultivar of rice that will produce a reliable crop of red rice every time. Just as they have always done with white rice, trying to find a cultivar that won't display the red variation.

Red rice has a more crunchy texture than white rice, as it is a whole-grain rice and has not been polished. It's flavor is a bit nutty, with hints of almond. Traditional northeastern Brazilian cooking has always known how to cook this rice to its best advantage, and now chefs in other parts of the country, notably São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and in the state of Minas Gerais, are adding red rice to their larders and creating inventive dishes that highlight its very attractive qualities.

In the next two posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide two recipes for this rice, one a traditional recipe from the northeast, and the other a chef's creation from a mountain resort in southeastern Brazil.

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