Pelau is a traditional rice dish of the French West Indies and popularized in other Caribbean countries such as Trinidad. Pelau shares its origins with pilaf and Spain's original version of their dish, paella.
There were two cool things I did in making this dish: rendering the chicken fat, and caramelizing the chicken. The first isn't necessarily a part of the dish, but the second absolutely is: "burning" the sugar adds a unique character to the chicken. I used a dark brown sugar, but a light brown sugar is preferred: the sugar is heated almost to the point of being blackened, and it's easier to see the transformation on a lighter sugar.
1 1/2 pounds chicken thigh, fat reserved
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoons thyme, divided
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (and/or rendered fat from chicken)
1/2 red onion
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 serrano pepper, diced
2 cups long grain rice
20 ounces pigeon peas, liquid reserved
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoon cilantro (coriander leaf)
13 ounces coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt, adjusted to taste
1. Trim fat and any skin from the chicken thighs and set aside. Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Season chicken with garlic salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Seal in a bag and refrigerate overnight.
NOTE: If the chicken doesn't have much fat, add vegetable oil to make up the volume. About 3 tablespoons will be needed.
2. Place chicken skin and fat in a pan on medium-low heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, to render out the fat. Remove and test any dried bits: discard if chewy, and reserve as a garnish if desired (or eat as a snack).
3. Add 1 tablespoon of rendered fat or vegetable oil to a pan on medium heat. Spread around evenly, then sprinkle brown sugar on the oil. DON'T STIR THE SUGAR IN THE PAN!
4. Continue heating until portions of the sugar are just starting to turn black. Don't let it burn! If it does burn, clean out the pan, add a tablespoon of oil and brown sugar, and try again.
5. Add chicken to the pan and stir to coat. Break up any clumps of burnt sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
6. Add remaining rendered fat and/or 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and raise heat to medium. Cook onion, carrots, and celery, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and becomes fragrant. Open a space in the pan and heat the garlic and serrano pepper, stirring continuously to keep the garlic from burning. Once it browns slightly, stir together with the other ingredients.
7. Add chicken back to the pan along with the pigeon peas. Stir occasionally for about 3 minutes.
8. Add rice to the pan and stir in thoroughly. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
9. Add coconut milk, stock, and any reserved liquids from pigeon peas. Stir to break up any clumps. Add Worcestershire sauce, remaining thyme, chopped cilantro, and scallions.
10. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 20-25 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Stir in butter. Add salt to taste.