Growing up in Awendaw, purloo was an almost daily part of Charlotte Jenkins’ diet. It’s a simple dish, requiring little more than rice and whatever meat might be on hand. “Any time you add meat to rice and cook it all together in one pot, that’s a purloo,” explains Jenkins, now the owner and chef of Gullah Cuisine in Mt. Pleasant. Jenkins’ mother taught her how to make the dish when she was 9 years old, and there’s rarely a day when some type of purloo isn’t on the menu at her restaurant.
Purloo’s beauty lies in its versatility. You can substitute oysters for shrimp or add sausage or chicken earlier in the boil. It’s a simple dish based around the Lowcountry’s one-time staple crop: rice. For a full flavor, however, make sure to cook your rice in a stock, not just water.
“Some people like to cook their rice like it’s grits, but this is how I learned to prepare it. Less liquid,” says Jenkins, who adds that some recipes call for more tomatoes and a juicier consistency. “Whatever you put in it, purloo is a quick, easy dish.”
Jenkins’ personal favorite is a smoked herring purloo, although she also loves oysters and shrimp. Okra is a welcome addition to any purloo, she adds. To cook up our own pot, we asked Jenkins to break down her recipe and spoil a few Gullah cooking secrets.
• 1 lb. shrimp
• 2.5 cups fish stock
• 2 Tbs. seafood seasoning
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 over-ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 2 slices bacon
• 3 Tbs. chopped ham
• 1 cup white rice
• Salt and pepper
• Serves six
1. Peel and devein the shrimp. It’s important to use local shrimp, Jenkins says, and not just for ethical reasons. “When you see shrimp that look clear and glassy or spongy, watch out,” she says. “That affects the flavor. We don’t know where these other shrimp are coming from. China?”
2. (Optional) Prepare your stock. Put all the shrimp shells you’ve just peeled into a pot of water and boil for an hour or two. Strain out the peels and put the stock aside. This is the traditional way of making stock for a shrimp purloo.
3. Pick out a good pot. “Back in the day, we used a big black iron pot,” recalls Jenkins. For our purposes, any good sauce pan will do.
4. Cook the bacon and ham in the pot over medium heat. Once they’re popping and releasing oil, add onion and garlic. Vegetarians can skip the meat altogether and use olive oil.
5. Add tomatoes, seasoning, and homemade or store-bought fish stock. Bring to a boil.
6. Add rice. Reduce heat and cover. Cook about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
7. Stir in the shrimp, cover, and let cook about five minutes, or until the shrimp turns pink. (If you want to add okra, cook it in a separate pan until the slime dissipates. Scoop it out and add it to the pot when you add the shrimp).
8. Serve it and soak up the Gullah goodness.