Tonight’s Menu: Pelau

A serving of Pelau with fresh cucumber and habanero pepper sauce (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

A serving of Pelau with fresh cucumber and habanero pepper sauce (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Pelau, or as it’s pronounced in America and other parts of the world, “Pilaf,” and in the Middle East, “Pilaw,” is a main staple on many dinner tables around the world. 

Both Pelau and Pilaf recipes contain similar ingredients such as rice, chicken, or beef, and are flavored with broth and other commonly used condiments.

A recent dinner menu in my home featured Pelau, as we call it in my birthplace of Trinidad, West Indies. Dishes such as Pelau draw from the blend of cultures and cuisines in the Carribean dating back to colonial times.  In the 17th century, the British brought slaves to the area  from various parts of Africa, and indentured labor from South East India to Trinidad specifically.  Pelau is one of the most popular of several recipes cooked in most Caribbean kitchens. Trinidadians, or “Trini” as the locals refer to anyone born on the island of Trinidad, are very particular about their recipes and how their Pelau is flavored, so this means that each individual has varied from the original recipe by a teaspoon or tablespoon, all in the name of enhancing the flavors and increasing the portions consumed by Pelau lovers.

My guests tonight are: one young man from Spain, one young man from China, my better half (who happens to be Caucasian), and one of my best friends who really sticks out like a sore thumb in our hometown of Baltimore because she is a Green Bay Packers fan. My young guests from China and Spain are also quite curious as to why our Packers fan has a full studio set up in the kitchen to photograph the food.

On to the Pelau and ingredients:

  • Rice – The recipe I am using for my Pelau consists of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice, which I cook separately and drain.
  • Chicken – Since I am a Trini by birth, I pride myself in making the right choices when selecting chicken parts for making Pelau. I want my Pelau recipe to stand out with an attitude, yes, that’s right; nothing wrong with having a recipe with an attitude. The only chicken part that fits the bill at this moment is drumsticks, since the Giant Supermarket ran out of wingettes. Had I been following Trini protocol, I would use a machete to butcher an entire five pound chicken for my recipe, but since I happen to be feeding a group of  non-Trini folks, I don’t want to wind up in the emergency room from a machete mishap!
  • Pigeon Peas – Wait, let’s not forget the Pigeon peas which come in a 15 ounce can.
  •  Kitchen Banquet Browning and Seasoning Gravy Sauce –  about one quarter cup to evenly coat the rice and chicken when combined into the Pelau dish.
  • Carrots – Trinis commonly embrace bright vibrant colors, whether in their garden, clothing, paint for their homes, or food, which brings me to remember that I need to cube some carrots for adding some visual flair to the Pelau.
  • Marinade –  While the rice is cooking, I generously sprinkle salt and fresh lime juice over the chicken drumsticks after rinsing the chicken in cold water. Being raised on intensely flavored foods, it is my Trini duty to marinade my chicken in my special blend of cilantro and garlic. This time around I am omitting the habanero pepper to accommodate the palettes of guests who have a lower tolerance for hot and spicy foods. The longer the chicken sits in the marinade, the more flavor for the Pelau, but my time is limited tonight.
  • Cooking the chicken – Chicken with bone in should always, as a rule of thumb, be cooked first, which is why I sauté these heavenly drumsticks in some vegetable oil and I add some of the  Kitchen Banquet Browning and Seasoning Gravy Sauce for achieving a rich brown color on the chicken. By stirring the chicken occasionally throughout the cooking process, I am ahead of the game, because the flavor seals evenly inside out and the bone marrow cooks to perfection. For clarification, Trinidadians tend to embrace every bit of their chicken, including the bone marrow; nothing to shy away from because it is fully cooked and flavored.
  • Combining components – The entire Pelau dish has a complete attitude when I combine the carrots and Pigeon Peas during the last five minutes of the chicken cooking time. The last step I take is to reduce the heat to as low as possible and combine the rice with the chicken mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. The rice should evenly coat to the same brown color as the chicken from the chicken broth that was released into the pot while the chicken had been cooking. Turn off the stove once the Pelau has come together. To complete the meal, Trinidadians alike must have their hot pepper sauce.  I made a fresh jar of the habanero sauce last weekend. Come and take ah taste of the islands Mon!

If you reside in the Maryland area and would like hands-on instruction in how to make Chicken Pelau, you may reach me at 443-629-8370. I am willing to teach students in the privacy of their own kitchen, or with friends in my kitchen. Refer a friend to take the class with you and you will get a 10 percent discount on your class.


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