Dirty rice is served at barbecues throughout Louisiana—and in much of the rest of the South. And no one makes it better than Thelma M. Williams, the petite and hair-netted Louisiana-born proprietor of Thelma’s in Houston. Thelma’s is the sort of barbecue joint you’d expect to find deep in the country, but instead, it’s tucked in a forgotten neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Houston convention center. Her brisket and ribs combine the intense flavor of traditional Texas barbecue with the sweet, sticky, lemony barbecue sauce characteristic of Louisiana. But what really keeps me awake at night is dreaming about Thelma’s peppery dirty rice.
Step 1: Place the chicken livers, gizzards, and chuck steak in a large pot, add 6 cups of water, and gradually bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Use a large spoon to skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and let simmer gently until the beef is tender, about 1 hour. After the first 30 minutes, season with salt to taste. You’ll need 4 cups of broth for the rice. Add more water if necessary.
Step 2: Strain 4 cups of the broth into a large, heat proof measuring cup or bowl and set aside. Finely chop the chicken livers, gizzards, and chuck steak in a food processor or meat grinder and set aside.
Step 3: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, scallions, celery, garlic, and parsley and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are shiny, about 1 minute. Add the 4 cups of reserved broth, the chopped chicken livers, gizzards, and chuck steak, the Kitchen Bouquet and Accent, if using, and lots of pepper. Let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low (the idea is to cook the rice at the barest simmer). Cover the pot. Cook the rice until very tender, about 20 minutes. The rice should be moist but not soupy—uncover the pot for the last 5 minutes if necessary to let some of the water evaporate.
Step 4: Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and fluff the rice with a fork. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary; dirty rice should be highly seasoned. Try to make the rice as close to serving time as possible. If not serving the dirty rice right away, keep warm on a warm corner of the stove, placing a clean dish towel under the pot lid to absorb the excess steam (which would make the rice soggy).
Thelma’s dirty rice owes its richness to the addition of chicken livers and gizzards and chuck steak. To intensify the flavor she makes a broth with these ingredients and uses it to cook the rice. Depending on how impatient you are to try this recipe, you can either buy the livers and gizzards or freeze them each time you grill a chicken, then make the rice when you have enough.
Note: Adding Kitchen Bouquet will result in a deeper brown color and increase the roasted flavor of the rice. Accent is a brand of MSG, a flavor enhancer. Both are optional.