Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Caribbean Chicken and Rice - Pelau

One of the many good things about volunteering to cook for Food Chain is learning to make things I've never heard of before. We have a fair proportion of service users who are of African or Caribbean descent who look, like all the rest, to find food they know when they open their lunch on Sundays. Given that part of the ethos of the charity is to feed people well to add a little joy to their week we need to send out food that is familiar to them. I am fine on regular dinners, the hardest thing with them is deciding on which particular meal to cook. Vegetarian and Indian food I have a lot of experience making, eating and enjoying.

But African and Caribbean? No.

I have bought food at Notting Hill Carnival from street vendors and had an occasional meal from African kitchens and tiny Brixton restaurants but, despite the fact that London has a quite sizeable population from these countries the food has a very low public profile. There has been no parallel spreading of these ethnic foods into mainstream life to match the reach of, traditionally, Indian and Chinese or the more recent proliferation of Thai and Japanese - albeit bastardised versions of such. There are probably more shops selling Polish food now than African. There is the magnificence of Brixton market - and I do shop there a lot - but it hasn't spread more generally. Tesco sells no ready meal version of groundnut stew in the way they shift billions of chicken tikkas. The information and recipes are out there but you have to search. Cooking for food chain has led me to look.

What I found recently was a one pot meal called Pelau that sounded very tasty with the added advantage that we could make it on a Sunday morning and have it out on time. Pelau is one of Trindad’s signature national dishes. Chicken is seared in caramelized sugar after being steeped in a garlicky marinade then cooked in coconut milk until it is falling off the bone soft and subtly sweet. Sounded good.

I found the initial recipe on Aidan Brooks blogsite - in his favourite recipes section. Then I googled it and came up with many subtle variations on the original - the one thing they had in common was all of them extolling the pleasure in the eating. The other ting needed for the making of this was the need for green seasoning. Never heard of it. Apparently it is essential to the final dish. So I took myself to Brixton to one of the big Afro-Caribbean shops and checked the shelves. Sure enough there were rows and rows of bottles of different sizes.

Looked interesting.

Bought some.

After all I did want this to work.

The following recipe is my version that I made at home for the man and me - it is so good there is now a bottle of green seasoning in the pantry waiting for the next time.

Rice, Chicken and Pigeon Peas - Pelau

For the marinade
2 chicken quarters
1 tbsp mixed green seasoning
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

For the rice and peas:
1/2 cup rice
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
1 tin cooked pigeon peas (or gungo peas)
1 hot chilli pepper
1/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1 tbsp light brown sugar

1 tbsp vegetable oil

In a bowl, mix together the green seasoning, crushed garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, tomato purée, salt and pepper.

Cut the chicken pieces through the joint to make two legs and two thighs. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and rub in the marinade. Cover and leave for an hour.

Prepare the vegetables by finely chopping the onion and hot chilli pepper. Dice the pepper into 1cm pieces.

Heat the vegetable oil in a lidded pan big enough to hold the finished meal and add the brown sugar. Keep it moving, as the sugar will dissolve after a few minutes and turn toffeeish. Add the seasoned chicken pieces - be careful they will spit - and cook for about 5 minutes all over until they have a golden brown surface colour.

Now add in the chopped onion and pepper and the pigeon peas and continue to cook, stirring for a few minutes. Stir in the rice. Mix thoroughly. Add in the chilli pepper and then pour in the coconut milk and the chicken stock. Stir all of the ingredients together well, bring to the boil then reduce the heat so the mixture is just simmering. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed.

Add more liquid if needed until the rice is cooked. The final dish should be nicely dry, but not dried out.

Served in big bowls it was a great summer supper - and with very little washing up at the end!


Fati said...

Hi Bron,
As a person who is married to another nationality (I am Iranian, my husband is Turkish and we Live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates) I like to cook different dishes and often watch cooking programs on TV. Today there was caribbean chicken and rice cooking show and it looked amazing.. checking for more recipes for that on net, I found your Blog.Yours looks tasty as well. I will try it.


bron said...

Hi Fati - what an interesting couple you sound. I love turkish food but know little about Iranian food, though my parents went to Iran recently and loved everything they ate. I really hope you like this dish too.