Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Weather and Chicken Perloo

As much as I love Summer, I have to admit, I love Fall too.  Something about the cooler temperatures, football games, wood smoke, and the mountains painted with brilliant colors makes me feel all cozy inside.  Ultimately it leads me to comfort foods.

I grew up spending weeks in the spring and summer traveling between Athens, Savannah, and Gainesville.   Having family in all those areas, I was priviledged, blessed really, to an exposure of different regional foods.  My paternal grandmother exposed me to all things Athens and central and southern Georgia.  My maternal grandmother and great grandmother exposed me to Coastal Georgia and Lowcountry foods.  My mom and aunts taught me early on of those wonderful dishes coming out of the farmlands and foothills of North Georgia.

But... when I want a simple, one pot, warm and cozy comfort food, I remember Great Granny's Chicken Perloo.  Perloo is a lowcountry dish, made of basics...rice, chicken, pork, savory seasonings.  Perloo is actually the gullah pronounciation of the word "pilau," a dish that originated with the people of the gullah nation.  The folks north of Savannah and Charleston probably use the "proper" pronounciation, Chicken Pilau.  But I prefer the old term my Granny and Mama used, "perloo."  Another spelling is "perlo."  Recipes for Chicken Perloo are as varied as the pronounciation.  Some are simple, like my family's.  Others are all gussied up with herbs, olive oil, mushrooms and peppers.  I like mine simple.  Here's the recipe as I remember it from my Mama, Granny, and Great Granny.

1 fryer chicken, cut up
4 - 5 cups water
Salt, pepper, chicken boullion cubes or poultry seasoning
1 lb. country ham, or thick bacon (later my mom started using polish sausage as a substitute)
1 - 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
1 - 2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cups white rice
(Optional - 1 chopped tomato, chopped bell pepper)

Place chicken in a large dutch oven, or soup pan as my mama would say, cover with the water, season well with salt, pepper, a couple of chicken boullion cubes or poultry seasoning.  Bring to a simmer and cook chicken 20-30 minutes until done .
Remove chicken from broth, saving the broth, and set chicken aside to cool.   When cool enough to handle, skin and debone, and shred or cut up chicken.  Add the chicken back to the broth.
In a large fry pan, heat the tablespoon or two of vegetable oil.  Add cubed country ham or bacon and cook until crispy.  Remove pork from the pan and add the chopped onion and celery, adding a bit more oil if needed to prevent veggies from sticking.  Cook veggies until tender and translucent.  Add pork and veggies to the broth and chicken.  Bring to a boil. 
When broth begins to boil, add the rice. Stir well.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer slowly until rice is cooked and water is absorbed.  Stir occasionally and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Final thoughts....
** Many recipes will call for pouring the broth into another container and setting aside.  Use the same dutch oven or soup pan to brown the pork and saute the onion and celery.  Then, pouring the broth back over the veggies.  My family always cooked the pork and sauted the veggies in a large fry pan, then deglazed with a bit of broth, adding it all back to the broth.
** Sometimes Mama or Granny would add chopped tomato to the mix after everything was combined back into the broth.  I happen to like the tomato and will often use it.  Sometimes they even added chopped green pepper to the onion and celery.
** Polish sausage is a nice hearty substitute for ham or bacon.  In fact, I prefer it. If you use polish sausage, you'll want to slice in about quarter inch rounds.

Chicken Perloo ~~ takes me back to Savannah and my island everytime.

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