The word pilau refers to a rice dish that has been prepared in a seasoned broth of onions and vegetables and served with shrimp, crawfish, crabs, chicken or game. It arrived here in the states with African slaves where it became popular along the southern states and up the eastern seacoast.
Good pilau comes from the cooking techniques of the folks that make it. The secret is in the stock, one that uses the shells of the seafood or the bones from the game. True bayou cookery calls for throwing in a couple of live crabs into the pot when making the stock, just to season it correctly.
This is the way I like to make mine. Even in the heat of summer, late in the evening, nothing is finer than a plate of seasoned rice and shrimp cooked the way it is meant to be – and the way we were taught. Enjoy!
Gulf Shrimp Pilau
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped, divided in half
2 carrots, chopped with tops preferred
2 celery stalks, chopped with tops preferred
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
8 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 1⁄2 cups long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped saving the juice (or 1 -28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove heads and shells from shrimp and refrigerate the shrimp meat. Combine heads and shells with half of the chopped onion, all the carrots, celery, the bay leaf and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20 minutes.
In a large stockpot, place roasted vegetables along with the heads and shells in 1 quart of hot water. Add the thyme, oregano and parsley. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain broth into a container discarding the solids.
In the same stockpot, if you wish, cook bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels. Sauté remaining onion and green pepper in the bacon fat for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add rice and cook until rice is transparent, about 5 minutes. Season with the red crushed pepper. Add tomatoes, salt, parsley, and 2 1⁄2 cups shrimp broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes adding more stock if rice begins to get dry.
Add shrimp to the rice, cover, and cook another 10 minutes. Stir in the bacon and serve with crusty French bread and a side salad.