Sustainable Chicken Pelau

Featured Image by Sasha Gates

My family, as large as it is, comes from a small twin island country called Trinidad and Tobago, which is just off the coast of Venezuela. It may be hard to find on a map, especially if you are not looking for it, but it is a place that is big on culture, tradition, and food. There are so many dishes that I can name that are practically staples of Trinidadian culture such as breadfruit oil down, doubles, callaloo, and macaroni pie, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Despite not growing up in Trinidad, I would constantly visit my grandmother that lives there, and there would be one thing that she would always cook for me: pelau. Pelau is a dish consisting mainly of rice, pigeon peas, and chicken, and it is among the staples of Trinidadian cooking I have listed above. It is something my grandmother would constantly make whenever I went to visit her, and it is one of my favorite dishes of all time. The more sustainable version of this recipe, which is called rice and peas is honestly a more Jamaican dish. Nevertheless, I would always enjoy it when my mother made it and I promised myself this would definitely be something I would make for my own kids.

 

The ingredients for making pelau are boneless chicken thighs, brown sugar, a scotch bonnet pepper, green seasoning, black pepper and salt, garlic, culantro, green pigeon peas, coconut milk, and parboiled rice. Most of these items can be found at most supermarkets, but some of the hardest ingredients to find may be the pigeon peas, the culantro, the green seasoning, and the scotch bonnet pepper. Green seasoning can be found premade in a bottle, and it is possible to use a culantro cooking base if you cannot find fresh culantro leaves. It is possible to use dried pigeon peas; however, since they have to be rehydrated, the green pigeon peas will save some extra time because they do not have to be rehydrated. I will also say there are many other ingredients and seasonings that can be added to both recipes, but I did not include them so you can add them at your own discretion. This recipe is meant to make a full pot of food, but the cost to make this is fairly dependent on how much the chicken costs per pound.

The revised recipe changes the pelau to rice and peas (which is essentially pelau without chicken), and caters to all aspects of sustainability, meaning it will be environmentally, economically, and ecologically friendlier. The main and possibly only change is the chicken will be cut out because chickens put out a heavy carbon footprint and it is the most expensive part of the dish. Overall, the dish now becomes vegetarian friendly, has a lower carbon footprint, is accessible to more people because it costs less and has a more consistent price than the original recipe since there is no meat to account for. Finally, cutting out the meat

 

As we strive for sustainability in the United States, there are several obstacles we encounter that are discussed by many authors such as Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One of the problems he believes America has is the over abundance of choice. In looking at all of the several choices we have at our disposal, it becomes difficult for us to choose simply what to eat without worrying so much. Pollen believes that a country with a culture “in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating” (Pollen 2), and believes that “…such a culture [would] be shocked to discover that there are other countries, such as Italy and France, that decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of ‘unhealthy’ foods, and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we are” (Pollan 3). This perfectly explains why I chose this specific recipe. People tend to value their culture, and I am no exception. When thinking about foods from my parent’s culture, I was able to name several traditional foods with no problem, and I picked this simply because it is a major part of my culture. I did not have to think so long on what recipe to pick, I just chose something I truly enjoyed and was a traditional dish my family greatly valued. I was not stuck in “the omnivore’s dilemma” because I had solid traditions to fall back on.

Chicken Pelau

10 seasoned boneless chicken thighs (each cut into 4 pieces)

3 tbsps. brown sugar

1 Scotch Bonnet pepper (whole)

2 tbsp. green seasoning

black pepper and salt (to taste)

4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

2 leaves culantro (finely chopped)

2 cans green pigeon peas

2 cans coconut milk

4 cups parboiled rice

 

Directions

 

  1. Put brown sugar in an iron pot to burn. When sugar begins to bubble up add 3 tablespoons of water to make browning.
  2. Combine seasoned chicken, garlic, green seasoning, and culantro with the browning in the pot. Ensure chicken is completely coated in browning. Let this cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Add coconut milk and pigeon peas and bring to a boil.
  4. Add two cups of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Add the rice and scotch bonnet pepper, and stir. Add the salt and black pepper to taste.
  5. Cover the pot and lower the heat and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is soft and tasty.  Do not let the pepper burst and always keep it on top of the rice.

 

To make the rice and peas, you would follow the same recipe and just take out the chicken. Since there is no meat to cook, the cooking time will shorten, so keep that in mind too!