Monday, July 19, 2010

Aunt Judy's Chicken Pilau

Growing up in the south doesn't guarantee you'll grow up a Southerner, especially in Florida. I was born here, but reared on the gulfcoast, a blend of northeastern and midwestern culture. But my dad's family were reared in the Florida heartland, Southerners one and all. Aunt Judy was a beautiful southern lady whose cooking, it was said, could heal the sick. (Hyperbole is part of southern culture.) If you'd ever had Aunt Judy's lemon pound cake or her fried veggies, you might think you were healed, even as the cholesterol numbers rose.

But the dish I knew Aunt Judy best by was her chicken pilau. Peppery and soothing, the dish was a contradiction of flavors and effects. I loved it when dad imitated it, but pined for Aunt Judy's version, which I would beg for whenever we planned a visit to her home near Ocala.

Thankfully, she shared the recipe, at least how she remembered it, in a church cookbook before she passed from this life. So you can imagine how surprised I was when, seeking the correct spelling and pronunciation of "pilau," I googled it and found out it's not southern at all! In fact, the word is Persian in origin! It's been shifted and changed in several ways, as has the dish, which is essentially chicken and rice prepared in the stock, depending on the culture: African, Thai, Chinese, etc.

Here's a link to the meaning of "pilau."
Here's a sample of the way it can be prepared in different cultures.
Here's a great-sounding African version.

I have approximated Aunt Judy's version several times, including twice during my recent time-off from The JOY FM. Kids love it, with our without cheese. (I prefer without.) You can make a big pot of it and stretch it over several meals, but of course, because it's chicken, you don't want to hang on to it too long. Don't worry, it will likely disappear.

2 large fryers (3-4 lb)
3 cups rice, washed until water is clear
2 large cans Swanson chicken broth
1/2 to 1 cup cheddar cheese
black pepper

Cook chicken in broth until very tender (about 2 hrs). Remove from broth, de-bone, discard skin (some skin remaining is optional). Strain broth. Measure 6 cups of warm broth and add the rice to it. Cook rice and simmer a while. When rice is cooked, add chicken, lifting rice carefully to avoid mushiness. Add more broth if too dry. Grate 1/2 cup (1 cup if desired) cheddar cheese. Add to pilau with fork. Add black pepper to taste. 

Serve with sweet gherkins if desired. 

Note: some of this is improvised. Play with the ratios a bit until you get it tasting the way you want it to. I doubt Aunt Judy ever made it the same way twice. 


Anonymous said...

I also grew up in North Florida and Chicken Pilau (Perlo is how we pronounced it)was the staple at fund raisers & political rallies. Cast iron sugar kettals were used to cook the large batches and boat paddles were used to stir. We also seasoned the chicken with celery and onions. Thank you for posting the North Florida version.
Beverly Hill

Ranuel said...

I'm from Lake City and I've never seen perlo with cheese in it around here. My search for a recipe will have to continue but her version does sound very good.

Jim said...

Born & raised in Tallahassee where perlo was a staple. Here's my grandmothers recipe, hope it works for you, Jim:

Chicken Pilau (Perlo)
Serves 6.
• 1 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1/2 cup diced ham or bacon
• 1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
• 1 rib celery, diced
• 2 cups long-grain rice
• 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 1 can whole tomatoes or 1 cup fresh, peeled and chopped
• 2 cups cooked cubed chicken
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 2 tablespoons minced parsley
1. In a large deep skillet or Dutch oven,
2. Heat the olive oil;
3. add the ham or bacon. Sauté until meat is lightly browned.
4. Add the chopped onion, green pepper, and celery. Sauté until the onion is
5. Add the rice and sauté, stirring, until lightly browned.
6. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
7. Add the 2 cups chicken broth and tomatoes to the skillet.
8. Cover and simmer 25 minutes, or until the rice is tender and liquid
9. Stir the cooked chicken into the rice; heat through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
10.Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed.
11. Turn onto a platter; sprinkle with minced parsley, if desired.

This will be gummy kinda like a bog but it is great!

Bill Martin said...

Thanks Jim! I'm definitely going to have to try this one. Sounds amazing!