Pilau is a classic in Charleston, the surrounding Lowcountry and other Southern locales, a dish of many variations, spellings, and even origins. “We found it traced to Turkey, India, Iran, Iraq, Spain, Minorca, Greece, Poland, and the Orient,” writes John Edgerton in "Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History." As adaptable (and debated) as Louisiana’s jambalaya or Spain’s paella, it’s the kind of dish that lets a cook express herself.
This dressed-up version makes a lot of pilau, enough for a crowd of twenty at a potluck or as a side dish for a family reunion. As a main course it will feed ten hungry diners.
You can use canned chopped tomatoes instead of fresh ones; if so, use the juice from the cans to replace some of the chicken stock.
Cook bacon in a large skillet until brown and crispy. Drain bacon strips on paper towels and reserve. (Remove some or most of the bacon fat in the pan, if desired.) Add shallots, jalapenos, and garlic (if you’re using it). Cook over low flame until softened, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes. Raise heat to medium high and cook tomatoes, stirring often, 15-20 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a large, heavy pot with fitted lid. Stir in rice, stock, wine, salt, and pepper. (If you use canned stock, use the smaller amount of salt.) Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to very low, cover pot tightly and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop bacon into bits. When rice is done, lift the lid and place diced ham and peas in pot, but don’t stir them into the rice. Replace lid and let rice stand 5-10 minutes. To serve, fluff the rice with a large fork, tossing the now-warm ham and peas into the mixture. Serve in a large bowl or from the pot, sprinkled with bacon bits and green onions.
Copyright by Terese Allen