Louisiana's Popcorn RiceDecember 20, 2012
You can tell a good grain by its smell. The flavors in something so basic are subtle enough that that they travel the air better than the tongue. There’s no mistaking popcorn rice. The gourmet would say that popcorn rice has a strong, nutty aroma almost like basmati or jasmine. Someone else would say that, yeah, it definitely smells like popcorn.
Popcorn rice is one of the rarer treasures of Cajun country. Amazon.com says it made its way to America from Pakistan via France, sources closer to the original importer said that a Texas A&M researcher tucked a few grains into his pant cuffs on the way back from China. Either way, it’s a way to inject something worth tasting into a food that’s too often outshone by whatever is sitting on top of it.
Popcorn rice is nutty, strong, and a little toasty. Above all, it’s a sort of italicized rice. Whatever it is that rice is, this is more. At La Petit Grocery in New Orleans, chef Justin Devilier uses it in everything he makes, but prefers it when it’s sitting on its own outside of spices and sauces. It can be disconcerting to be served plain rice at a gourmet restaurant. Disconcerting until you taste it.
Ellis Stansel’s Popcorn Rice would make a great holiday gift if you can get your hands on any of it. At this time of year, it tends to run out as quickly as its milled, but there are still some bags floating around the Internet. Track one down and see a staple grain like you never have before.
Dave Thier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, AOL News, The New Republic, and more. He is a frequent contributor to Forbes.com