Soul Food’s twist on a traditional Trinidadian chicken and rice dish
You can smell it before you see it: the large, sizzling skillets of various combinations of seafood, lamb, chicken, rice, vegetables and spices, an amalgam of Caribbean flavours and British produce. The menu’s ever changing—we’ve been once to Soul Food for griddled sea bream; we’re back for chicken pelau.
“It’s a traditional Trinidadian dish—so it’s from the Caribbean, of course!” whoops owner and chef Patrick Williams, whose enthusiasm about the provenance of his recipes—and the quality of the ingredients he uses to create them—matches our enthusiasm to tuck in to the steaming pile of chicken, rice, sweet potato, butternut squash and fresh, shredded salad leaves before us.
“It’s our version of it—you don’t usually add butternut squash. But our Trini customers have said it’s very good.”
The chicken is from The Ginger Pig; the salad from Paul Wheeler’s—“Everything is fresh.” The chicken is “marinated, then flash fried and put it aside. We then add a bit of turmeric, fresh ginger, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, peppers, onions, squash and sweet potato to the pan and cook it all together. Then we re-add the chicken, the rice, a little bit of chicken stock and let it all cook out.”
Complexity of flavour
The result is a dish that’s packed with a complexity of flavour that belies the simplicity of its core ingredients. The chicken is tender, with a smoky, almost chargrilled flavour. The rice is spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.
“The thing for me is to dispel the myth that all Caribbean food is spicy,” Patrick continues. “My feeling is that you need to be able to taste the ingredients as they should be—if you’ve got quality ingredients, why would you want to hide that flavour? It should be accentuated, yes. Not overpowered.”
The crisp, clean salad cuts through any suggestion of fattiness. “It’s a combination of baby gem, rocket, tomatoes and cucumber, and it’s cut as and when we need it, so you’re not going to get a soggy salad,” says Patrick. “It adds texture to the dish. The rice and chicken are soft, so it needs that crunch to change it up.” For that it’s filling, well-rounded and quite rightly, “one of our most popular dishes”—and now, one of our favourites.