The first time I had pelau if my memory serves me correctly, was at my husband family’s place in Florida. I don’t even remember who made it. If it was his aunt, his uncle or someone else at the house. All I remember is that I couldn’t stop eating it. It was incredible! Perfect one pot meal, and popular for bringing to a beach lime (gathering). Because you make a huge pot of it, it’s perfect for feeding a crowd.
The Trinidadian pelau (pronounced ‘pay-louw’ as in ‘ouw’ for ouch) is a mixture of various cooking styles. I read that it was a dish popularised by Alexander the Great, who brought it to Europe (Apparently me and him share the same taste in food). From Europe it was then introduced to Africa and Trinidad.
Also read that it originated from an East Indian/and Persian dish. A mixture of rice veggies and meat. Other cultures also have similar dishes. What makes Trini pelau different is that it also has peas and also follows the African tradition of browning meat in sugar while preparing it. The meat is most popularly beef and chicken or both but can include other meats as well, and the meat is seasoned for a few hours or overnight with trini green seasoning. There is also coconut milk in it too which adds a certain creaminess to the taste of it without affecting the texture too much. I love it served with avocado, or salad and definitely with some pepper sauce.
What took mine to another level of deliciousness is adding salted pigtail to it. Ok I know-pigtail? Yes I’m for real. It’s a common addition to creole cooking and I absolutely love it. I had never had it in pelau until I tasted it from another one of Johann’s family member’s pot. It adds the right amount of saltiness if done right and the perfect ratio of fat or oil in the pelau, not to mention incredible flavour. You can definitely make this recipe vegetarian and or vegan though by omitting all meat and browning the peas to still give the dish that beautiful caramel brownish color and subtle sweetness, and it’s just as delicious.
Ok back to how much I love this dish. I can honesty say that when done right this is my absolute favourite Trini dish. It’s a rice dish (if you don’t already know I am a rice lover) so of course I would love it. I can’t say I dislike any Trini dish really. I’m not a huge fan of sous (pickled and seasoned pig tail, snout and ears or chicken feet) but other than that I love it all, so when I say it’s my fav it’s my favourite out of a lot of amazing dishes. The general flavour of it stays the same but I find it comes out a little different each time I make it and depending on what meat I use and how many and what veggies I add in.
Everyone has their own version of it and a favourite way to cook it.
Everyone has their own version of it and a favourite way to cook it. I love them all when they are homemade. I have yet to taste an amazing pelau or at least one that tastes as good as homemade out at a restaurant or lunch spot. It’s kind of like lasagna in that sense. I very rarely order it from a restaurant because it never tastes as good as homemade. It’s almost like you can taste the love and care that’s put into it. (lasagna also has so many variations and styles of cooking just like pelau). So this is my version of Trini pelau. My husband puts it really well when asked about my pelau. “It’s not like moms it’s a cross between moms and aunt’s, but it’s so delicious” he says. I will take that! And if I do say so myself, it is quite delicious and i cannot be responsible for what happens to the pot if left alone with me.
- 1 lb of chicken meat cleaned seasoned with green seasoning for at least an hour but overnight is better( cut the same size as you would use for stew, bone in or out is optional- I use boneless thigh meat cut up in stew size pieces because that’s what my husband prefers)
- 1 pkg of pigtail approx 2 cups worth ( rinsed and boiled twice over for approx 5-10 minutes each time, allow to cool, remove as much fat as possible, cut up as needed and mix in with the chicken to be seasoned also or if you don’t have time to do it ahead of time and season then just add it it when you add the chicken to brown)
- 1 cup of pigeon peas either fresh frozen or canned (you may need to precook the fresh or frozen ones)
- 1 cup of coconut milk
- 2 cups of brown or white long grain rice washed and drained
- 3 cups of water or broth
- 2 tbsp brown sugar/Demerara
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 carrot peeled and sliced
- 1 onion slices finely
- 1-2 tomatoes sliced
- 1 tbsp of molasses browning (optional-only if needed)
- 2-3 pimento peppers chopped finely
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
Heat oil in a large pot to medium high(I like to use my cast iron pot) and add in your brown sugar - allow the brown sugar to caramelise to the point that it’s nice and dark, bubbling and starting to smoke - this takes a few minutes
There is a fine line between caramelising and burning it. Burning it will result in a very bitter tasting pot of food. So if your not sure err on the side of caution until you get the hang of it and add some browning or molasses to achieve the colour you would like. Don’t over do it with the molasses either because the result will be the same bitterness. Just add a tsp at a time as needed.
Once oil and sugar are caramelised and bubbling add in your meat cautiously because the caramel likes to spatter and burns really bad ( I use the lid as my shield) stir the meat up really well cover and let simmer for approx 10 minutes stirring and checking it every few minutes. Towards the end of the ten minutes if it’s not as brown as you would like it add in your molasses and stir well.
Now turn up the heat to high for a few minutes and stir well and constantly until most of the moisture and juice from meat is mostly evaporated - takes only a few minutes
Once it’s mostly evaporated add in your veggies(pimentos, onions, carrot and tomatoes, I also like to add a tsp of fresh green seasoning for extra flavour — I usually have some frozen to take from) and sauté for a couple minutes, then add your rice and peas and sauté as well mixing everything really well so that the rice absorbs all the flavours evenly
Now add your liquids - the coconut milk and water or broth and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind-if adding the pig tail, remember that it’s salted and will release more salt as it cooks down even if you boiled it twice before)
Bring to a boil then lower heat right down to low, add in your whole scotch bonnet if using, cover and let simmer for approx 30 minutes (If you decide to finish off in the oven which I do sometimes make sure you preheat oven to 350 degrees bring pot to boil, stir, cover and let cook in oven for the same amount of time approx 30 minutes)
Once done serve with slaw, green salad and or a nice slice of avocado and some pepper sauce
A caution about putting in the scotch bonnet pepper. There is a chance it could burst and release all the seeds and all the fire so use at own risk. If it doesn’t burst though it adds a wonderful low grade spice to the whole pot. Just fantastic! But sometimes I will just add a sliced piece of it when I add the veggies to the pot or just add pepper sauce later to dish according to individual taste