I love delving into traditional recipes from the South, learning new things or rediscovering classics. Perloo (pronounced purlow, and sometimes spelled that way, or pilau, or any number of variations) is a dish I first heard of when my brother returned from a trip to South Carolina and suggested that I figure out how to make it. He described is as kind of a jambalaya or dirty rice, but somehow different.
So over the years, I have read recipes and fiddled around with the idea, but never really understood it. Until I traveled to South Carolina and had a version of perloo in Charleston. Perloo, you see, comes in all shapes and sizes. Chicken, duck, shrimp, oyster sausage or a combination. The one I ordered had several main ingredients, in a flavorful bed of rice. I settled on shrimp perloo, because I love the combination of big, juicy shrimp and rich, seasoned rice, plus the shrimp give it a low country feel.
I’ve streamlined more traditional recipes to produce the rich flavor that could be a great party dish or a weeknight meal. If you can get your hands on some Carolina Gold rice, use that for an authentic version, but long grain white works for me. I find good seafood stock made with shrimp at the grocery, but use a flavorful vegetable stock if you can’t. Of course, it you have fresh, head-on shrimp, you can go full traditional and make your own stock with the heads and shells.
1 cup long grain white rice
1-1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of cayenne
6 strips bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 celery stalks, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
14.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups seafood stock (or vegetable stock)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cool water by about an inch. Leave to soak for 10 minutes, then strain the rice through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse the rice with cool water, shaking it around a few times, until the water coming out of the sieve is clear and not cloudy. Don’t skip this step, it will keep the perloo fluffy and not gummy. Set the cleaned rice aside.
2. Pat the shrimp dry and spread out on a plate. Mix the sweet and smoked paprika, celery salt, salt and pepper together and sprinkle evenly over the shrimp. Keep the shrimp in the fridge until ready to use.
3. Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid until it is crispy and brown. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon and set aside. Carefully pour off all but 3 tablespoons of bacon grease and leave it to cool in the pot for a few minutes. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and the onions translucent. Do not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with the fat. Cook for about 2 minutes until the edges of most of the grains are a little translucent. Add the tomatoes, seafood stock, parsley and bay leaf and stir a few times to combine. Do not stir a lot, just distribute the ingredients. Bring the perloo to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 12 minutes. Quickly peek under the lid to make sure the liquid is absorbed. If it needs another few minutes, cover the pot and keep cooking.
4. When the liquid is absorbed into the rice, sprinkle the reserved bacon pieces over the top over the, then spread the shrimp out over the rice. It’s OK if there are two layers. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes on low, then turn off the heat and leave for a further 5 minutes. Take the lid off, and use a spatula to gently fold the rice over the shrimp. Do not stir like crazy or agitate things too much or the rice will get gluey. If the shrimp are not fully cooked, cover the pot and put it back on low heat for a few minutes.
5. When the shrimp are cooked through, use two forks to gently fluff the rice. Serve immediately.