This feast comes from the heart of the North Country pines… northern Minnesota, the place where I did my real growing up, from boy to man, hunting and fishing in the wilds. This iconic feast, legendary among the native peoples who live there, is the essence of wildness. When you prepare the ingredients, and then feast on it, you can almost hear the cry of the loons out on the lake, in the dusk… and again at first light, as you ease your boat into the lily pads, casting for large mouth bass and northern pike. It is so deep in my heart that every scrap of my DNA cries out to be there again, one day.
Image from a postcard ca 1905, located in the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, Copyright Minnesota Society Collections.
I’m thinking back about the crisp sheets of my grandparent’s log cabin on Little Bass Lake, which my grandfather built with his hands in the 1930’s, and in which they lived together for nearly forty years. Me racing to the row boat at dawn with my gear, with lunch and bait, (I didn’t need water, the lake water was what we drank) and returning at dinner time with enough sunfish, bluegill, crappie, northern pike and walleye to eventually fill their enormous freezer for the entire winter. I remember watching the native peoples on the reservation next to us, harvesting wild rice in their wide shallow bottomed boats. Hearing the thunder of bull moose crashing through the woods, literally knocking down entire trees. The times I would pick wild blueberries and raspberries, side by side with black bears. And hunting the ducks that supplied all the meat and the flavor for this feast. Here be wild things… here is where my heart lies.
In Our Wild Savory Kitchen one feast calls forth another, as the feasts tumble together. This wild rice meal is one of our favorite ways to use the duck and porcini gravy from the Clay Baked Duck recipe from our next cookbook, coming out next year… as well as the duck fat and the broth, redolent with fresh sage, thyme and rosemary, made from boiling down the duck bones after the clay bake feast itself.
Wild rice is not actually closely related to the rice we are familiar, it’s the grain of a tall grass that grows in shallow lakes in the North Country. Like duck, wild mushrooms and sage, it is the hallmark and essence of wildness. It was traditionally gathered and roasted over a wood fire, and the real thing has a smoky earthy umami flavor.
1 pound wild rice, rinsed (we get ours directly from the Leech Lake band of the Ojibwe, which is hand harvested on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota)
6 to 8 cups duck broth (or smoked turkey and chicken broth), less if you like the wild rice slightly crunchy, more if you like it more creamy with a bit of broth (we boil down the bones from a roasted or rotisserie duck using wild herbs
1/2 pound pound smoked lamb, duck, turkey or pork sausage, cut into irregular bitesize pieces
1/2 to 1 pound duck meat from our previously made clay bake recipe or any roasted duck
1 cup (8 oz) porcini mushroom, fresh or reconstituted from dried, chopped roughly (if you don’t have porcini, you can also use baby portobellos or shiitake)
2 tablespoons duck fat, olive oil or butter
1 onion (or 2 large shallots, or 1 bunch wild ramps)
4 to 5 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup fresh sage (we use Cleveland Sage, which grows in the chaparral all through California)
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon roughly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce (or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste)
4 carrots, sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
Using a 12 inch saute pan, cast iron is best, gently fry the sausage in the duck fat or olive oil until they are just browning. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan with the now flavored oils, saute the onions (or shallots), carrots and celery until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and stir together until aromatic.
In a 3 to 4 quart stock pot, add together the broth, wild rice, sausage, porcini, vegetables, sage, fish sauce, salt and black pepper. Heat until boiling, reduce the heat so that the rice simmers. Cover and cook for 18 to 25 minutes, until the wild rice is just the right texture for your taste.
This is a feast from the wilds of the Minnesota lakes and woods, as haunting to me as the loons at dusk and the northern pike and walleye that glide through the cold water of the deep lakes. Brought to us from the native peoples who still embody it’s power, and provide to us their hand harvested wild rice.