Chicken Pelau


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves:


Appears in

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago

Sweet Hands

By Ramin Ganeshram

Published 2018

  • About

Pelau is one of those dishes that really exemplifies Trinidadian cuisine because it is an admixture of various cooking styles. Pelau (rice layered with meats and vegetables) is a variation of East Indian pilau, which originated in Persia where it is called polow. The Anglicized version of the dish is called pilaf. The process of browning meat in sugar for pelau is an African tradition and ketchup is a New World addition, although I suspect it has its basis in tomato chutneys available in British India and likely brought to Trinidad by the English.


  • 1 cup dried pigeon peas, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas, or 1 (12-ounce) can
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¾ cup sugar (white or brown)
  • 1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons green seasoning
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 5 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
  • 2 cups long-grain rice
  • 2 cups cubed fresh calabaza or butternut squash
  • 1 small whole Scotch bonnet pepper or other hot red chili pepper
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon butter


  1. If using dried peas or beans, soak them overnight in 3 cups of water. Drain peas/beans. Bring 3 cups of fresh water to a boil in a saucepan and add the peas or beans. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until almost cooked. Drain and set aside. If using canned peas or beans, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy deep pot over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and swirl in the pot; allow it to caramelize to a caramel brown color.
  3. Add the chicken and stir well to coat. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 2 cups of water, the coconut milk, bay leaf, green seasoning, parsley, thyme, carrots, and scallions. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile wash the rice by placing it in a deep bowl and adding enough cold water to cover. Swirl the rice with your hand until the water is cloudy and then pour off the water, taking care not to pour out the rice. Repeat 3 to 4 times or until the water stays clear. Drain well.
  5. Stir the washed rice into the chicken mixture along with the prepared peas or beans, squash, chili pepper, ketchup, and butter. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the peas and vegetables are tender.
  6. Remove the lid and fluff the rice. The rice should be moist but not sticky. Remove bay leaf, thyme sprig, and chili pepper. Serve with Trini Coleslaw.