Trini Pelau (Rice, Chicken And Pigeon Peas)

Pelau is one of the great dishes of Trinidad & Tobago - to some it is the nation's signature dish. It has been described as a Trinidadan version of the Persian dish Pilaf, but it is much more than that. This is a dish that is deliciously edible even when cooked by an amateur and a work of culinary art when cooked by an expert. So everyone should have a go at it. If you prepare everything in advance, there is very little to be done at cooking time.

Ingredients (4 portions)

For the marinade (referred to in the Caribbean as "seasoning"):
1 medium chicken (or 750gm chicken pieces)
1 tbsp mixed green seasoning*
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper

For the rice and peas:
1 cup rice
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
1 large tin cooked pigeon peas (or gungo peas)
1 hot chilli pepper
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock (previously made fresh stock or ½ chicken stock cube, boiling water and mixed herbs)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil

* Be sure to use Caribbean green seasoning. There are other green seasoning mixes, such as the one from Brazil used for cooking fish. The one I used was from Montserrat.


These are most, but not all, of the ingredients. There's also onion, pepper and coconut milk.

I started out with a tin of brown gungo peas but swapped these for green pigeon peas before I cooked the rice. I stand to be corrected but I think both peas are closely related and make perfect substitutes for each other.
The first task is to prepare the seasoning, or marinade, for the chicken.

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

Prepare the vegetables by finely chopping the onion, bell pepper and hot chilli pepper.
Now prepare the chicken.

If you have bought chicken pieces, remove the skin.

If like me you are starting from a whole chicken, remove the legs and breasts. Divide the legs into thigh and drumstick and cut the breasts in half. Remember the breast is much thicker at the wing end so make sure to consider this when equally dividing them in half.

Remove the skin from all of the pieces.
Now for the fun bit. Massage the marinade into the chicken pieces so that the flesh is thoroughly plastered with seasoning.

Now cover and leave to marinate for at least an hour and more if you have the time.
While the meat is marinating, get the chicken stock and coconut milk ready.

If you have previously made your own chicken stock, this is the time to bring it to the boil and then leave it on a simmer. Otherwise add your stock cube to the boiling water, add herbs and stir until the stock is dissolved.

Also at this time, par-boil the rice by cooking in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain the rice and refrigerate.

Now to start the cooking in that most traditional of Trinidadan ways.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok and add the brown sugar. Keep it moving, as the wok will get very hot much quicker than a pan. The sugar will dissolve after a few minutes and form a gooey caramel.
Now add the seasoned chicken pieces and cook for about 5 minutes on all surfaces until they have a golden brown surface colour.

When your chicken pieces look like this, you are ready for the next stage of the cooking.
Now for the par-boiled rice.

This should be fluffy and separate but still need plenty of cooking.

Stir the par-boiled rice into the wok with the chicken. Mix thoroughly.
Now add in the chopped onion and pepper and the pigeon peas and continue to cook, stirring for a few minutes.

Next 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, cover and reduce the heat so the mixture is just simmering.

As an alternative to simmering on the hob you can put the pelau into an oven proof dish, cover and bake in the oven.

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.

Now turn your pelau out into bowls and serve.

Enjoy your taste of Trinidad!
Here is the ideal drink to accompany your meal. Naturally iced spring water from Trinidad's Northern Range Mountains.

Or, in my case, London tap water and ice from the freezer.
Just kidding there, but what about a dessert that is genuinely from Trinidad. The ubiquitous mango.

Simply peel, slice and serve...