You Say Pilaf, I Say Purloo

February 27, 2018

There’s something so attractive about a meal cooked in a single vessel. Ease aside, letting your ingredients come together in one place to sputter and simmer and seep into each other is the best way to bring every flavor right up to the edge of its companions. A purloo does just that. It unites, in one pot, rice, meat, spices, and vegetables, all covered with broth and stewed until soft. When Digby Stridiron, a chef from the Caribbean island of St. Croix, first encountered a South Carolina purloo, he knew it by another name:

“You start seeing these different names because they changed when they got here, but they’re all the same references. I grew up eating pelau, or cook-up rice, in the West Indies. Then you realize it came from Persia, where it was polow, then the French put their take on it and called it pilaf. It’s basically this rice that’s a one-pot meal, which back in the day was everything.”

Stridiron concerns himself with food and its pathways. His native West Indies, with its history as a stopping point along trade routes—including the North American slave trade—is surrounded on three sides by land; its fourth edge sees contact with West Africa via the Middle Passage and has drawn influence and inspiration from all. Stridiron didn’t grow up with a particular interest in food, but after a stint in the military, he returned to St. Croix and, working various service jobs, began to cultivate a love for the tastes of the island he called home.

Shop the Story

“In St. Croix, food is very important, whether it’s a funeral, a wedding, it doesn’t matter. It could be a two-year-old’s birthday party and you’re going to have some kind of rum and you’re going to have food. Food is just so forward in the Caribbean growing up, whether you’re just climbing a tree and picking mangoes right off the yard or cutting bushes, you’re one with all these ingredients all the time.”

After cooking across St. Croix, where he was awarded the role of Culinary Ambassador of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in various spots across the southern United States, Stridiron recently settled in South Carolina, where he helms the kitchen at Parcel 32. His food concerns itself with place; his flavors recognize distance, accept it, and, often, seek to traverse it.

For a recent appearance at the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in Charleston, Stridiron assembled a one-pot rice speckled with shrimp and spicy sausage that paid homage to his now without forgetting his before. Even then, ignoring the way a dish can assume many, many incarnations was not easy for the chef: “This recipe is inspired by my current region, the Low Country, and the diaspora. I’ve seen versions of this rice dish throughout my years as a chef and my years traveling the West Indies. I saw the similarities with congee and asopao. Also saw similarities with Puerto Rican arroz con pollo, Trinidadian cook-up rice or pilau, and even the famous jambalaya. I feel like this version highlighted this beautiful one-pot rice recipe.”

What's your one-stop one-pot recipe? Tell us about it in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

1 Comment

Smaug February 27, 2018
What kind of chorizo? What kind of peppers? Not that there's much hope of finding culantro or Spanish thyme anyway.