Rice and Spice and other things nice.
Perloo—that’s what Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings called it in her book, Cross Creek Cookery. But what is perloo? Depending on where you’re from, you’ll call this meat-stretching, rice-based dish by any of a number of different names. In Louisiana, it’s jambalaya. In South Florida and throughout the Spanish-speaking world, it’s paella. And at our house, we prepare it in so many different ways that we don’t really even have a specific name for it. It’s just perloo, with ingredients varying from chicken to pork to ham to sausage to seafood, often more than one at a time, combined with rice and some local spices.
It’s a one-pot, budget-stretching, seafood loving dish. Old Florida Shrimp Perloo, made not only with a native seafood product but also with datil peppers, a favorite of Minorcan settlers and descendants in the St. Augustine area. If you can’t buy these peppers, try growing your own or substitute habaneros. In terms of flavor, datil peppers have a unique sweetness. But in terms of heat, they’re right up there on the Scoville Scale (of pepper hotness) with super-hot habaneros. And a reminder that when you’re preparing them for this (or any) recipe, take care to wear gloves, and never, never, never rub your eyes!
There are as many methods of cooking perloo as there are recipes. Using “converted” rice like Uncle Ben’s will keep the final product from becoming gooey. However, if you like sticky rice, use Basmati and a bit more liquid. If you don’t like Andouille sausage, use Polish kielbasa. And if you don’t like chicken, leave it out. The same goes for chicken stock. Fish stock, made from shrimp heads, will give the dish a distinct flavor and just plain water will work.
At the table, don’t get too fancy with side dishes. Perloo is rich and a little bit goes a long way. Besides, it’s chock-full of starch, meat, seafood—and even a few veggies. A simple salad and a slice of garlic bread will do just fine. Finally, finish this fiery southern meal with a cool dessert like ice cream topped with a classic Goo-Goo Cluster.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 fryer chicken, cut up, rinsed and dried
1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
2 cups chopped onion
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 can (14.5-ounce) chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp. minced Italian parsley
3 datil peppers (substitute: habaneros), cut in half and seeded
2 bay leaves
1 1⁄2 cups Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice
3 cups canned chicken stock
2 tbsp. salt
1 lb. large (21-25 count) Florida shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch scallions, cut for garnish
Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large heavy pot. Add the chicken parts and brown on all sides. Remove to a holding dish or plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, garlic, tomatoes and parsley and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Add the sausage, bay leaves and datil pepper halves and cook about 5 more minutes. Then add the reserved chicken parts, rice and chicken stock. Add the salt and mix gently.
Raise the heat to bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then cover tightly and turn the heat down to very low. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring gently every few minutes. With about 10 minutes to go, stir in the shrimp and scallions, uncover and turn up the heat to medium. Before serving, remove the datil halves, being sure to account for all six used in the recipe—no guest deserves a hot surprise from an unaccounted-for hot pepper!
Tommy Thompson’s Sportsman’s Kitchen, from the September, ’12 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine, print edition.