Friday, June 06, 2008
These days, as I've been looking more and more into the old-school classics of Lowcountry cooking, I find myself eating pilau a lot. In Charleston, that's usually pronounced "per-low" or "per-loo", but it is related historically to the Middle Eastern rice dishes that are more frequently called "pilaf" outside of Charleston. Made incorrectly, pilau can be a dry, boring rice dish. Put together just right, it's a tender, steamy delicacy. I can't say I've completely mastered the pilau yet, but I'm getting closer.
For this recipe, I started with the version from John Martin Taylor's Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking, which I've found to be one of the best sources for classic Lowcountry recipes. One thing was noticably missing from Taylor's version, though: bacon. Bacon shows up in almost all of the 19th century pilau recipes from South Carolina, so I added in a slice or two once I hit the step where you sautee the vegetables (after all, bacon is essentially just an extension of the vegetable food group, right?)
Here's how it goes:
1. Cover a whole chicken (or the parts from one chicken) with water (about 2 quarts), bring to a boil, and simmer for a half hour.
2. Remove chicken from the stock and reserve the stock. Allow chicken to cool, then remove the meat from the bones.
3. Melt a bunch of butter in a dutch oven or similarly large pan. Don't be scared--used a whole stick.
4. Add a diced onion, 2-3 ribs worth of diced celery, and 2 slices worth of minced bacon. Cook till the vegetables are just starting to brown. (I snapped the photo below just before remembering I needed to add the bacon!)
5. Toss in a diced tomato along with salt and pepper and some fresh thyme (about a tablespoon if it's fresh, a teaspoon if you only have dried). Add two cups of rice and the chicken and stir till well coated in the butter. I prefer to use Carolina Gold rice for this dish, though you could use plain old long grain rice, too--it just won't have quite the dense, chewy texture of the original.
6. Add 4 cups of the reserved chicken stock. The ratio of rice to liquid is important here, so measure!
7. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat till the liquid is just simmering (medium low on my electric stove). Cover and cook undisturbed thirty minutes.
When it's done, remove the lid, fluff the grains of rice with a fork, and serve. It's rich and filling and a classic of the Lowcountry.
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