Charleston Red Rice

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon – it’s delicious!

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste.  Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

Charleston Red Rice is an iconic dish throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry. From restaurants to home kitchens, this recipe is a favorite of the area. I remember my mother making this recipe when we were kids. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a Charleston-specific thing. I just figured red rice was a common dish. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how unique this recipe is!

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

In truth, I had kinda forgotten about red rice until we visited Folly Beach a couple summers ago. (Folly Beach is ~20 minutes from downtown Charleston, SC.) We ate out at restaurants quite a bit on that vacation, and I think Charleston Red Rice was a menu option at every place we ate.

Back home, I decided it was time to make red rice. As I was making this recipe, I was struck by the realization that many Lowcountry recipes from South Carolina are closely related to Cajun recipes from Louisiana. Rice is common in both cuisines – that makes perfect sense as rice was one of the biggest trade commodities of this region.

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

However, there is also a noticeable African flare in Lowcountry cuisine. Take this Charleston Red Rice for instance. Tomato paste is what gives this recipe it’s name. Jollof rice, a common West African dish, also calls for tomato paste. However, the Lowcountry version also includes smoked sausage and Cajun seasoning. This recipe represents an interesting blend of cultures. More importantly, it’s delicious!

Charleston Red Rice

Charleston Red Rice uses a unique type of rice called Carolina Gold. Around the time of the Civil War, 3.5 million of the 5 million bushels of rice grown in the United States were Carolina Gold. This variety of rice, which gets its name from the yellowish color of the unhulled grains, slowly fell out of popularity. The last commercial crop was harvested in 1927.

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

However, in the late 1980’s, an eye surgeon living south of Charleston worked with rice researchers (what an interesting profession!) to recreate this heirloom strain of rice. While Carolina Gold rice hasn’t achieved it’s previous levels of popularity, it is fairly easy to find bags of this rice in stores in the Carolinas. If you can’t find Carolina Gold, feel free to use long-grain white rice instead. (And of course, there’s always Amazon to the rescue for a bag of Carolina Gold!)

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

If you’re looking for a unique (and delicious!) side dish, put this Charleston Red Rice recipe on the list. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do here in our house. Cheers!

Did you make a batch of this Charleston Red Rice at home? Leave a comment, or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog) – I’d love to see your version!

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

Charleston Red Rice

An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon – it's delicious!
5 from 7 votes
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 508kcal

Ingredients

  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 16 oz. smoked sausage finely diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 2 celery ribs diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups uncooked Carolina gold rice can use long-grain rice instead
  • 2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
  • cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • {for garnish} fresh Italian parsley chopped

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Spray a 9”x13” baking dish with nonstick spray; set aside.
  • Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until crispy. (Note: I used a 12” cast iron skillet.)
  • Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Leave bacon drippings in skillet.
  • Using the same skillet, add diced sausage, onions, bell peppers and celery; sauté, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until onions are translucent.
  • Add garlic; stir and continue sautéing for 1 more minute.
  • Rinse rice under cold water until the water runs clear.
  • Add rice to the skillet; stir and continue cooking for 1 minute.
  • Crumble the cooked bacon and add to the skillet along with the tomato paste, chicken stock, hot sauce, kosher salt, Cajun seasoning, black pepper, sugar and cayenne pepper. Stir until well combined.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer contents of skillet into prepared baking dish. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes without uncovering.
  • Remove dish from oven, fluff the rice with a fork and continue baking (covered with foil) for 10-12 more minutes.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.
An iconic dish in the Lowcountry region, Charleston Red Rice is a heavily seasoned baked rice recipe that gets its color from tomato paste. Make a batch soon - it's delicious!

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24 Comments

  1. Cant wait to make this soon for me can i use mushrooms / vegan sausage and vegetable broth and skip green bell pepper as am not a big fan of green bell pepper i never had charleston red rice before perfect for my after office meals love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work

    1. Yes! I think one of the best things about cooking is getting in the kitchen and playing around with recipes to adapt to your style. You are certainly welcome to adapt this recipe as desired, Ramya! Let me know if you try it out!

    1. I do think knowing the backstory behind recipes really adds to the overall interest. This is a fun one, and I do hope they are able to get Carolina Gold rice going again. It seems to be readily available in local stores and on Amazon…so maybe it’s gaining traction? Either way, this recipe is fantastic, Kathy. I highly recommend it!

  2. 5 stars
    I am not familiar with Charleston Red Rice, and indeed it never occurred to me you can bake rice. How cool is that?! Beautiful combination of flavours and textures, and it looks terrific. Now I am thinking of an oven baked jambalaya, what do you think?

    1. This rice recipe is really interesting, Ben. It is baked as you noted, but I also love both the African and Cajun influences on this one. That makes sense given the region of the country, but it’s still fun to appreciate the backstory. And funny that you mentioned oven baked jambalaya – I made that a while back, and I swear it’s our favorite way to make jambalaya now! https://spicedblog.com/sheet-pan-jambalaya/

  3. we eat a lot of rice in this house and this sounds great. i love to make a baked rice (i used to make it with bacon) with lots of vegetables like capsicumm and zucchini etc. Yum.

    1. Baked rice with veggies is a classic around here, too, Sherry! It makes for a great side dish, and it reheats so well, too. Give this version a shot sometime – except maybe omit the bacon??

  4. 5 stars
    Saw this in my Facebook feed this morning and wanted to find out more. I’m a huge fan of Cajun flavours and can’t wait to give it a go. And with smoked sausage in it. Yum yum!

    1. You know how much we love Cajun flavors in our house, too, Neil! This one hails from the Lowcountry region of the States (i.e. South Carolina coastline), but it has many Cajun influences. I highly recommend it!!

  5. 5 stars
    Carolina Gold sounds more like something one might smoke than rice. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
    I tasted Carolina Gold for the first time at a fantastic country seafood restaurant near Goose Creek. After that every trip I made to the low country I’d bring some back. With that said, It’s been a while since I tasted it. I think I remember a nutty taste to it.
    Back to your recipe, great dish it reminds me of Jamblyia which I love, so this has to be a winner…

    1. Hahaha – oh, Ron. 🙂

      I’m glad you know about Carolina Gold rice – it’s fairly easy to find in South Carolina, but it hasn’t quite caught on past that area yet. It’s quite tasty! To be fair, I wouldn’t go way out of my way hunting for it, but if it’s an option, then I’ll pick it up. And you’re right about the jambalaya similarities – this one has Cajun and African influences. All together, it makes for a tasty dish!

    1. Definitely look into Carolina Gold rice, Mimi! It’s crazy how it used to be the primary type of rice in America, but then it fell out of favor. It’s slowly making a comeback…and rightfully so!

  6. 5 stars
    Wow, the colour in this red rice is so striking! Must be filled with so much flavour! Definitely reminds me of jambalaya.

  7. Looks really tasty, David! How can you go wrong with bacon, smoked sausage and spices as your main flavorings?

    Slightly different subject but I had “dirty rice” for the first time not more than a week ago, of all places in Houston airport, during a layover on our way back home from Mexico. Not the best rendition I’m assuming but it was still pretty tasty.

    And yes, imagine having to study rice for a living? Sounds like fun.

    1. You’re absolutely right with bacon, smoked sausage and a bunch of seasonings. It’s bound to be delicious! And you’re spot on that this is similar to dirty rice. I do love dirty rice! Normally that’s made with chicken livers, but I typically use ground beef instead – liver just isn’t my thing. Either way, this is the kind of food I love!

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