The more one travels, the more one starts seeing familiar though slightly altered words and dishes in places far from where they were first encountered. This is not a recent phenomenon, however. Foods have been traveling the world for millennia. Two rice-based dishes are perfect examples of this tendency. A combination of rice and lentils known as khichari in India moved along trade routes that predate Moses and found a home in North Africa. In Egypt, koshry or koshery, is a bean and rice dish descended from khichari that is an almost ubiquitous breakfast dish. When the British came to India, they took home some of the ideas of khichari, transforming it into the classic English breakfast dish, kedgeree.
Even more widespread was a dish introduced from Persia into India when the Mughals invaded in the 1500s: the rice and meat dish known as pilau. From Persia, it moved to Turkey, where it was called pilav. The Greeks adopted the Turkish dish and named in pilafi. In Spain, it morphed into paella. When South Carolina became a major rice-producing area, the rice with meat dish there adopted yet another form of this word: perlo.
There are myriad versions of chicken perlo. There is also some debate as to what is a perlo and what is a bog. Depending on the person with whom you’re speaking or the recipe you’re reading, chicken bog is either the same as perlo, just a wetter version of perlo, or uses sausage instead of bacon. But others will disagree with any or all of these descriptions or variations. That’s okay–because what is important is that they taste good. This is a warming and filling dish that, despite its exotic heritage, is comfortably familiar.
Charleston Chicken Perlo
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 chicken, 3-1/2–4 lb., cut up (or equivalent weight of your favorite parts)
1 tsp. salt
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups water
6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large (4- or 5-qt.). Brown the chicken pieces in the oil. When nicely browned, cover the chicken with the water and add 1 tsp. salt. Boil the chicken, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth, reserving the broth. When they are cool, remove the skin and take the meat off the bones, tearing the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
In a Dutch oven or large frying pan with a lid, sauté the bacon until crisp. Add the onion, celery, and carrot to the bacon, and cook over medium heat until the onions just start to brown (about 10 minutes). Add the uncooked rice, stir until every grain is coated with bacon fat, and sauté until the rice begins to turn opaque. Add the thyme, a few grinds of pepper, and salt (about 1 tsp. should do it—you can always add more later). Add the chicken meat.
Measure the reserved broth. You should have about 4 cups. If you have more, remove some and enjoy it on its own. If you have less, top up with bouillon or packaged broth. Pour the broth over the chicken and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes without lifting the lid. Serves 4–6.