Stat Counter

Friday, January 7, 2011

Makin' Pilau

Pur-what? Pur-who? Pur-low, y'all!

Growing up in Quincy, one dish always heralded the arrival of cold weather: pilau. A simple dish of chicken and rice that's pronounced "pur-low," we sold it for school fundraisers. For the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. or the senior trip to Colorado, we'd hit the phones to pay our way selling plates of pilau.

Under the faithful direction of Mr. Bo Chason, men would spend hours outside in the Methodist church parking lot, boiling broth and stirring enormous pots with paddles. Inside, the students and mothers would form an assembly line to fill styrofoam boxes with the meals: a generous portion of pilau, cole slaw from Chandler's Restaurant, sweet pickles, saltines, and -- tucked in a plastic bag -- a brownie.

The tradition continues in the Q, but I've never seen anything like it in Charlotte. When my sister and I got involved at our big-city church, we couldn't believe having a fundraiser actually involved hiring a caterer. Where were the all dads with their paddles and giant pots?

A few years ago, Leigh Ann and I grew nostalgic for the familiar flavor of pilau. Our aunt Tillie agreed; it had been ages since she'd had any. We asked our friend, Suzanne, to get the recipe from her dad, Mr. Ed (the same Eddie Boo of the Brunswick stew).

I'm not sure I want to let this recipe get too far from home, so I'll just tell you it involves boiling and deboning massive amounts of chicken.
You add some chopped vegetables and simmer it until the rice is ready. Leave the skin on when you cook the chicken, and the more dark meat, the better! The first time I made it, I couldn't believe it: the flavor was just as I remembered.
Since then, I've made it a few times for parties. What better dish to serve a crowd than something you make by the gallon? The leftovers freeze well and are easy to share. I'm still mastering the seasoning, but now, thanks to my mother, I have inherited my own heavy-duty pilau pot.
Everyone in Charlotte who's eaten the pilau asks about the origin of the word. Curious myself, I found this article on, which says pilau is most popular in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana:

The word comes from the Turkish pilaw, from the Persian pilaw, and from the Osmanli pilav, "rice porridge." Pronunciation is just as varied, as in PER-lo, PEELaf, or per-LO. According to Bill Neal, Charlestonians, no matter how they spell it, all pronounce it PER-low.
I think this paragraph describes it well:
"...We pronounce the word "pur-loo." It is any dish of meat and rice cooked together. No Florida church supper, no large rural gathering, is without it. It is blessed among dishes for such a purpose, or for a large family, for meat goes farther in a pilau than prepared in any other way."
-- From "Cross Creek Cookery," by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

A warm dish for cold weather, full of happy memories. Blessed among dishes indeed!


Dee Stephens said...

I have had this before. Similar to jambalaya.

Mandy said...


Glenda Shepard gave the Class of 2003 a cookbook of her best recipes in it. She included "Pilau for 1,000" and discussed stirring with a boat paddle. :)