From the coast of Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida a group of people who speak an English based Creole dialect called Gullah dwelled on coastal islands and inland waterways. They had a distinct method of cooking that included rice at every meal including breads made from rice for breakfast. Their most famous dish, eaten on New Year’s Day to bring good luck, is “Hoppin’ John.” Its name comes from the French Creole word for black-eyed peas: pois pigeons, pronounced “pwah pee-Jon.”
I want to introduce you to a Gullah Low Country dish still served in Charleston, SC called pilau. In different coastal cities it is sometimes called purloo or pirlou. All these words are derived from the Gullah pronunciation of pilau (pronounced “perlow” by the Gullah). Pilau is a rice stew made from rice, broth, and bacon or salt pork. In the Low Country the Gullah people would add whatever was in their garden (field peas, black-eyed peas, greens, etc.) or whatever they had caught that day (oysters or shrimp) to the rice stew. It is one of those one pot “everything but the kitchen sink” dishes. The Gullah people would name the pilau after what had been added to it. If you put shrimp in it, you called it “shrimp pilau.”
If you can get your hands on some Carolina Gold rice, the rice that made Charleston rich, go for it. It is a little pricey because it is harvested by hand. The rice has the creaminess of risotto and the aroma is intoxicating. This recipe can be used as a side dish since it contains vegetables. For a main dish add shellfish or chicken.
Green Pea and Tomato Pilau
4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped, 1 inch dice
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced (save leaves)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 plus 1/2 cups long grain rice (Carolina Gold is best- order online)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 large tomato, washed, cored and chopped, big dice
salt and pepper- to taste
16 ounces frozen green peas, (or in the summer use fresh field peas)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh celery leaves or fresh parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels. Reserve bacon and use when serving as the garnish.
Add onion and celery to bacon grease and cook until onion is clear, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic and cook 30 seconds.
Add rice, thyme, dry mustard, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
Stir to coat rice and cook with the bacon grease for 3 minutes.
Rice will be transparent on the edges.
Add chicken broth and chopped tomato. Stir.
Taste broth then season with salt and pepper.
Increase heat and bring liquid to a boil then reduce heat and take down to a gentle simmer.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed.
The rice will not be dry- please remember this is a rice stew not rice pilaf!
The rice will be wet and there will still be some liquid in the bottom of the pan. Add butter and chopped celery leaves or parsley.
While the rice is cooking, prepare peas according to package directions. Drain.
To serve: plate the pilau and top with reserved bacon and green peas.
Published in The News and Neighbor on March 24, 2021.