Sunday, January 6, 2019

Weekend in Charleston and a Low-Country Feast

"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul" ~ Dorothy Day

We embarked on a long weekend to the low-country's epicenter Charleston, South Carolina.  A trip to be made slowly, not rushed, southern style.

With just a click, we signed up to enjoy a meal in a talented but unknown chef's home and break bread with random people we had never met.  

We set out to the outskirts of town with the address provided in our email.  We drove passed the nondescript building except for the ground floor coin-operated laundromat in full swing with dryers humming, and washers swishing.  We looked at each other and asked  "Is this the place?" We back tracked and with a quick u-turn pulled into a small gravel parking lot.  My husband volunteered to run up the back stairs to ensure the legitimacy of what we were doing.  He came back to announce  "This is the place!" with hesitant glances we stepped up and out into the unknown.  A friendly face met us at the door as we entered a small cramped apartment which for the evening was turned into a make shift restaurant.  Jazz music permeated the apartment with sound.  A strong fruity cocktail was served in mason jars. Several guests had already arrived and were chatting uncomfortably on the couch as strangers often do. 

The moment guests were called for dinner with our forks tapping, glasses clinking, plates being passed and wine being poured-we became family for the evening. We laughed, we told stories and communed together.  The meal was good. The company was better.  The meal and the conversation continued to almost midnight, even though, it was only scheduled to last two hours.

Think of the stories we can tell with food. Our chef prepared a traditional low-country Perlo ( A southern version of chicken and rice).  The dish is simple and straight forward but its roots run deep in West African cooking which is the foundation of modern southern cuisine today.  Now, depending on where you hail from you could easily refer to this dish as a "Bog" or "Pilau" The dish is a communal meal best when it is prepared to serve a crowd. 

My belly was full and my head a buzzed. It was clear this evening would leave an indelible impression on me.  A reminder that my best experiences have been those moments when I embraced the unpredictability of stepping out of my comfort zone.  While anyone can eat in a restaurant, when is the last time you stepped into a strangers home and ate a meal together?

How do you pay respect to a food experience that has provided a lasting impression?  I try to recreate it. With the research of many You Tube videos I set out to learn how to make a proper Perlo.

There are a myriad of ways to prepare Perlo.  If you should decide to prepare it, you will include your own touches to make this dish speak for you. This is the beauty of this dish it can be revised endless ways to reflect your tastes or what ingredients you may have readily available.

A shared moment with Chef Christopher 



 Perlo Low-Country Style for Sunday Supper


Southern Low-Country Perlo
Serves a crowd

Ingredients:

For the stock:
1 whole chicken, cut-up
2 smoked ham hocks
1 carrot peeled
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into extra-large pieces, including leaves
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs
Handful of peppercorns

For the Perlo:
8-10 cups homemade stock
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into thick slices
Chicken with skin and bones removed
Ham hocks with fat and bone removed.
2 pounds long grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell peppers (red, yellow and or green), chopped
3 carrots peeled, washed and cut into chunks 
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1-(14.5) can of undrained petite diced tomatoes
1-(10-ounces) frozen green peas
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

To prepare stock:
In a 8-10 quart stock pot, add whole chicken including neck bone, and giblet.  Add ham hocks, carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Fill pot about 2-inches from the top.

Bring ingredients to a boil on a medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer for about two hours until chicken and ham hocks are tender.

Remove from heat.  Remove chicken, giblet and ham hocks, and set aside.  Discard neck bone, carrots, onion, celery bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Strain the stock through a meal sieve. Put aside.

To prepare Dish:
When chicken is cooled.  Remove skin and bones. Coarsely chop chicken.  Chop giblets.  Remove fat  and discard from ham hock, and only use the meat.  Set aside.

In the same stock pot or large Dutch oven, on medium-high heat, add vegetable oil. When oil is hot add onion, carrots, bell peppers and celery.  Cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add sausage. Cook until lightly brown.  Add rice and cook for about 5 minutes frequently stirring the rice.  Add stock to cover about 2-inches above mixture line.  Return chicken and ham hock meat to mixture. Add diced tomatoes and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Cover 20-25 minutes until rice is tender.

Serve family style.