Oak Alley Chicken and Ham Pilaf

Evergreen, Nottoway, Madewood, Laura—these and other restored Mississippi River plantations dot the Louisiana landscape along “River Road” from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and none is more regal than the two-story, white-columned, Greek Revival Oak Alley plantation at Vacherie, where I was once served a chicken and ham pilaf much like this one in the mansion’s cypress-paneled dining room. Down in New Orleans, the dish would probably be called jambalaya, while over in the Carolinas and Georgia, it would be referred to as a “pilau” or “perloo”. How pullao from India evolved in the American South as “pilaf”, “pilau”, “perloo”, and even “purlow” in multiple guises remains, of course, one of the great culinary mysteries—the single unifying distinction being the importance of rice. Do remember that, like a jambalaya, this dish must be dry and fluffy.

Ingredients

  • 5 strips bacon, cut into pieces
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • cups raw long-grain rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 2 cups diced cooked ham
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pimentos
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a heavy skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp, drain on paper towels, and crumble, reserving the grease.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of the bacon grease into a heavy, flameproof 2-quart casserole, add the onions, and cook, stirring, over moderate heat till softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir till well coated with the fat. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, lemon juice, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper and bring the liquid to a boil. Place the casserole in the oven, cover, and bake 25 minutes.

Add the chicken, ham, pimentos, and bacon, stir till well blended, cover, and bake another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley, fluff with a fork, and serve hot.