"I hear better cock dan you crow, an’ still end up in de pelau":
I’ve heard “bigger roosters than you crow” (i.e., “bigger boasters than you talk”) and still end up being cooked in “pelau” (recipe below)
-- From Cote Ci, Cote La: Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary, by John Mendes, © 1986.
Having spent so much of my life in America, I have a strong understanding of American pop culture, and, indeed, the culinary customs of most Americans, even if I didn’t grow up with such customs in my own house. For example, I get it when my American friends can’t wait for Thanksgiving to rush home to their mothers’ green bean casseroles (even though the attraction of the dish completely escapes me), or candied yams, or mac-and-cheese. It’s about tradition, and home-cooking, and comfort – things I clearly understand, even though my family never celebrated Thanksgiving (or, come to think of it, ate mac-and-cheese. What is the big deal with mac-and-cheese?).
Anyway, having grown up in a Trini home, I have my own ideas of what constitutes “comfort food,” and pelau (rhymes with "pay-NOW") is definitely one of those dishes. It’s basically chicken-and-rice (and-sometimes-peas*), but with a stick-to-your-ribs goodness that I’ve found nowhere else. I’ve been making this dish for many years, but since being in Trinidad, I’ve perfected it a bit. I’m probably going to end up making this on Sunday night (when our good friends Trish & Carl arrive for a quick vacation from Houston – woohoo!), so I thought I’d share the recipe with you here, today.
(*A quick admission for those of you who are Trini: you’ll notice in my recipe, I don’t include pigeon peas. That’s because I don’t like them. However, according to my 99-year-old grandmother, true pelau doesn’t include peas, but “rice-and-peas” does. And I’m sorry, but I’m hardly going to argue with my 99-year-old grandmother, you know? So for the purposes of this post, I’m going to use her as the highest authority.)
So, without further delay:
What you’ll need:
- About 10 pieces of chicken
- 3 cloves of garlic
- Fresh ginger (I use one about the size of a clove of garlic)
- “seasoning” (Much like the Curry Chicken & Dumplings, if you’re in Trinidad, use “green seasoning” – if not, use any creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachare’s Creole Seasoning.
- 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Vegetable oil
- Brown sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 chicken-flavoured bouillon cube
- Coconut Milk (As you’ve probably guessed, coconut milk features heavily in Trini cooking. In Trinidad, you can buy powdered coconut milk:
and measurements in this post are based on this form of coconut milk. If, however, you’re only able to obtain canned coconut milk in liquid form, for the purposes of this recipe, I’d use about 1/2 a can.)
- Salt to taste
For the marinade:
1. Clean chicken, removing any excess fat.
2. Grate 3 cloves of garlic and 1 garlic-clove-sized piece of ginger into the chicken.
3. Add onions.
4. Add seasoning to taste.
5. Add enough soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce to fully coat chicken pieces.
Mix well, and let stand for 10 minutes.
1. Place about 2 “potspoonfuls” of oil (the amount of oil it takes to fill up a cooking spoon) in a large pot, and place on high heat. (Note: I use a cast-iron pot for my pelau, and I strongly recommend getting one for yours. I don’t think non-stick pots work nearly as well.)
2. Add 2 potspoonfuls of brown sugar to the oil, spreading it evenly in the oil without mixing, as shown below.
3. Leave on high heat until the sugar starts to turn dark brown, almost black, and starts to bubble, as shown below. Depending on your stove, it will only take a couple of minutes for this to occur.
4. SLOWLY add the chicken pieces to the oil, one by one. WARNING: THE OIL WILL SPATTER, so be careful, and if you have any little ones like Alex, now would be the time to get them away from the stove!
5. Once you’ve got all the pieces in, let the sugar “brown” your chicken, stirring occasionally, to ensure that the pieces don’t stick.
6. After the chicken is browned, add the remaining seasoning (shown below) to the pot, turn the heat to medium.
7. While your chicken is cooking (give it about 10-15 minutes), put 2 cups of uncooked rice in a bowl, and “clean” the rice by adding enough water to cover the rice. This is a Trini thing – I don’t know if everyone does it – but using your hands, stir the rice for a minute or two. Then strain the cloudy water from the rice – this removes most of the starch.
8. Add drained rice to the pot, as shown below. Once added, stir the rice until it’s coated with the liquid from the chicken mixture. Let simmer for a couple of minutes.
9. Add two cups of water to the mixture, and stir.
10. Add coconut milk to the mixture, as shown below, and stir.
11. Crumble bouillon cube over the entire mixture, and stir, and add salt to taste. Cover the pot, and let simmer until the rice is cooked, and the liquid has been absorbed from the rice. You’ll want to stir the pot occasionally, to ensure the rice doesn’t stick.
Once the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed, your pelau is ready. It’ll look something like this:
This recipe makes a LOT – enough for 5 people to have a hearty meal -- but for some reason, I think pelau leftovers taste even better than when they’re fresh, so it’s really okay if there’s any left to refrigerate for re-heating the following day. Also, just as a matter of interest, I like eating fresh tomato slices with my pelau -- you might try serving them on the side.