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Trinidadian Beef Pelau

Pelau—a dish of caramelized steamed rice with beef stew meat and carrot coins topped with fresh scallions and—in a...
Photogprah by Isa Zapata.  Food Styling by Susan Ottaviano.  Prop Styling by Maeve Sheridan and Molly Longwell

While Trini pelau has much in common with other protein-rich rice dishes found across the world, this one-pot workhorse gets its distinct rich, dark hue and smoky sweetness from a burnt sugar caramel, known as “browning,” which serves as the dish’s flavor base. This dish is a vessel for some of the Caribbean’s finest flavors, like bright and punchy herbs, spicy-sweet aromatics, and grassy coconut milk—but it’s also a reflection of the multicultural society of the twin-island republic and a mirror of the rich diversity of island life. Read more about the history of pelau—and why it’s the unofficial national dish of Trinidad and Tobago—here.

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What you’ll need

Ingredients

6–8 servings

3

lb. beef stew meat (such as chuck), cut into 1"–2" pieces

2

Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or 3½ tsp. plus ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt, plus more

2

Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1

Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper

14

scallions, 12 coarsely chopped (about 3 cups), 2 thinly sliced

1

large Scotch bonnet or habanero chile, finely chopped

1

2" piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped

cup ketchup

3

Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

1

Tbsp. coarsely chopped thyme

¼

cup vegetable oil

½

cup (packed) dark brown sugar

7

large carrots (about 2 lb.), scrubbed, cut into ½" pieces

1

15-oz. can green pigeon peas, rinsed

1

13.5-oz. can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk

2

cups parboiled long-grain rice (such as Carolina Gold Parboiled Rice), well rinsed

Chopped cilantro and sliced avocado (for serving)

Preparation

Step 1

Toss 3 lb. beef stew meat (such as chuck), cut into 1"–2" pieces, in a large nonreactive bowl with 2 Tbsp. Diamond Crystal or 3½ tsp. Morton kosher salt, 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, and 1 Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper. Add 12 scallions, coarsely chopped, 1 large Scotch bonnet or habanero chile, finely chopped, one 2” piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped, ⅓ cup ketchup, 3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic, and 1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped thyme. Using gloved hands, massage marinade into meat until well coated, about 2 minutes. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

Step 2

Heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. Sprinkle in ½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar and cook, undisturbed, until starting to sizzle and darken, 1–2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula, until sugar is bubbling and caramel is a dark brown (but not black) color, 3–4 minutes more. (Note: The oil will not incorporate with the melted sugar.) Immediately add beef and its marinade and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and cook, without stirring, until beef is brown and has released its juices, 15–20 minutes.

Step 3

Add 7 large carrots (about 2 lb.), scrubbed, cut into ½” pieces, one 15-oz. can green pigeon peas, rinsed, one 13.5-oz. can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk, 2 cups parboiled long-grain rice, well rinsed, and remaining 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt; stir to combine. Bring liquid to a simmer, then cover pot and cook over medium-low heat until rice is tender, 40–50 minutes.

Step 4

Uncover pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until some excess liquid evaporates, 6–8 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

Step 5

Divide pelau among bowls. Scatter 2 scallions, thinly sliced, over, dividing evenly. Serve with chopped cilantro and sliced avocado; season avocado with salt.

How would you rate Trinidadian Beef Pelau?

  • My wife is a beautiful Trini woman and this article as well as this recipe has helped open our eyes to beauty of the multicultural Trinbagonian heritage reflected in the rich history behind this sumptuous dish. What's more, having made this dish, the recipe is legit and it is hands down the most delicious, rice based stir fry we've ever tasted.

    • Anonymous

    • United States via Kingston, Jamaica

    • 3/22/2022

  • I wish I'd read all the reviews before spending 16$ on beef to cook in a bowl of hard carrots and mushy peas

    • not too happy

    • United States

    • 3/20/2022

  • Really love this piece of writing, cast me straight back to the Caribbean. I love pelau and cook it with chicken. Every Caribbean household has its own nuances, rice and peas for example can be red kidney beans in one household, and pigeon peas in another. The Caribbean is a real melting pot of techniques and flavours, I love this rendition, well done Brigid.

    • Dee

    • London

    • 3/20/2022

  • Winner!!! I have made pelau before but it never tasted as good as when my mom makes it. I followed this recipe and it was perfect. My son loved it. Like many kids he is a picky eater but he ate 2 bowl fulls. Definitely replacing my old recipe. I appreciate the chef sharing the history of the dish, I never really thought about it before but I have a renewed appreciation for the dish to go along with the great new recipe. I really loved the part about her mom and thinking about her mom, it was heartwarming. Thank you for sharing a little history and some delicious food.

    • Anonymous

    • Toronto, Canada

    • 3/20/2022

  • Just an amazing piece of writing and history on such a Trinidadian and Caribbean staple. So vivid and full of nostalgia, I love this recipe. When I saw the article I knew I had to make this coming Sunday and so I did. Came out just right, perfect in fact. Wife and little one absolutely loved it. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful dish Brigid...can't wait for more of your recipes to try. Keep them coming!!!!"

    • Reynold

    • Basel, Switzerland

    • 3/20/2022

  • What Ian said....Also, we season with pimentos, not scotch bonnets, what you described would make a dish that's painful to eat.

    • Anonymous

    • Trinidad

    • 3/20/2022

  • looks really tasty, I’m going to try it but with Ian’s additional notes. I like the fact he would use much less sugar

    • April

    • UK

    • 3/20/2022

  • This recipe seems gussied up for a Bon appetit photo and article. No problem there. However, note: Pelau is of East African origin. Rice existed in Trinidad before the arrival of East Indians. Fact: African slaves - Amerikins - that arrived in Trinidad (1776-77) from the US following the US War of Independence, long before the arrival of East Indians in Trinidad, brought with them Red rice, which is grown in Trinidad. Red rice is well known to be the sole rice that can be grown on dry land. Further, use of canned pigeon peas cooked for over an hour in that much liquid will result in a very soft almost mush-like meal. 1/2 cup of brown sugar is way too much. For 3Lbs of beef; two table spoons of sugar - brown or white granulated sugar - and two table spoons of vegetable oil is sufficient for browning. Otherwise you end up with a sweet meal. A great Pelau is almost dry with each grain of rice easily separated from the other much like uncooked rice. As such, if using canned peas, one must add late in the cooking process along with the rice using just enough liquid to cover the combined dry ingredients. Bring all combined ingredients to the boil, cook at the boil for now-two minutes, then cover and leave to simmer over very low or, preferably, no heat for twenty minutes. Note; the relatively large-cut carrots shown here will also need to be cooked initially along with the beef minus rice and peas as it will take longer to cook that the latter two ingredients.

    • Ian

    • Trinidad

    • 3/19/2022