Rice. Houston. What food can we cook that encapsulates all that is Houston? What genre of cuisine is quintessentially Houstonian?
In researching this edition of Football Food, I interviewed One Foot Down Houstonian commenter CleverScreenName, who had only this to say:
Houston is such a melting pot, that I can't really think of one unique food or cuisine or dish that just says "Houston." Obviously, Mexican and Barbecue are huge around here, but you can also get tons of options for Cajun, Asian, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, European, etc.
Thank you CleverScreenName. For nothing. He lives in the 'burbs anyway, so he's not really a Houstonian.
I then did a little research on Houston in the preeminent internet authority on all things things, Wikipedia. I was immediately distracted from my food research by two of other favorite amateur pursuits: nicknamification and hip hop. The two interests of mine have coalesced to produce some rather colorful nicknames for old H-town:
Fascinating stuff, but not much Football Food fodder, unless.... We could do a Football Food on how to make szyrup. It's tempting, but it wouldn't really encapsulate the many-layered onion of a fine wine of a mysterious beautiful lady who emanates the fine odors of petrochemicals that is Houston.
So what food can we possibly cook that says "Houston"? Eureka! How could I not have seen this immediately? It's rice. It's so obvious now. Rice is so very Houston. The city is a melting pot of Mexican, barbeque, soul food, Cajun/Creole, Asian, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, and European influences. And what is the common denominator, the raw material that undergirds so many dishes, the blank canvas of so many a work of art from all those wonderful traditions? Rice. It was rice all along.
And what's more--it's a little known fact that Rice University is so named because it was originally a culinary school that specialized in, you guessed it, rice.*
*Not actually a fact.
So here it is, our Rice rice recipe:
1 cup long-grain white rice
Unsalted butter or olive oil (optional)
Put 1-3/4 cups of water into a pot with a lid. Add in the rice, olive oil or butter, and salt. I know it said above that salt is optional, but salt is never optional. Blasphemy. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cover. Gently simmer until the rice has completely absorbed the water and is tender. Get the lid back on quickly after you check the rice. Take the pot off of the burner. Let it sit undisturbed, lid on, for 5 to 30 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice gently with a fork, and serve with almost anything you can imagine: Crawfish Etoufee or Bisque, Shrimp Creole, Seafood or Filé Gumbo, red/white/black/pinto beans, chimichurri, butter, cheese, some biryani or makhanwala or curry, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, short ribs, collared greens, okra, chitlins, ham hocks, pig feet, grits, lard, a bowl of mosquitoes, rusty bucket full of fishheads, fried donkey teeth, dog face in a shoebox, an old cellar door, a possum spine, a human foot, and, of course, GRAVY.