The Gullah people were West African Slaves that lived and farmed the rice, indigo, and cotton plantations in the Lowcountry during the 1700s. They were isolated from the mainland and lived on Edisto Island and the other Sea Islands. This isolation allowed them to hold onto their African traditions and culture.
It was especially helpful that the plantation owners left them alone on the island during the summer and rainy months every year. While the plantation owners fled the island with concerns of yellow fever spreading, the Gullah people had to remain behind to work the rice and indigo fields.
This time alone gave them a small amount of freedom to live as they did back home in West Africa by sticking to their traditions of cooking, singing, basket making, and artistry. However, there was no break from working the plantation because they worked the fields as their lives depended.
The Gullah people were purposely enslaved and brought to American due to their expertise in rice growing. In Africa, they had a system that worked well, and the plantation owners took notice and enslaved them to do the same work on the Sea Islands in America.
The Gullah people are a rich part of American history, but they aren’t mentioned in academic history books. However, their traditional ways of making food and their recipes are a staple in Southern cooking.
Since the Gullah people knew how to grow rice, they knew how to cook it and create various recipes. The goal of the Gullah people was to cook tasty and nutritious food that would feed many people.
The following Gullah rice recipe can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. Let’s start cooking!
Here’s what you need:
- 2 cups of raw white rice
- 1 ½ pound of skinless chicken pieces
- ¼ pound of shrimp
- ¼ cup of sliced andouille sausage
- ½ cup of vegetable oil
- ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
- 8 tbsp of unsalted butter
- ½ cup of diced and peeled carrots
- ½ cup of diced green bell pepper
- 5 cups of chicken stock
- 1 cup of diced yellow onion
- 3 tbsp of Gullah seasoning (a mixture of 1/4 cup of paprika, ¼ cup of ground celery seed, ¼ cup of onion powder, ¼ cup of garlic powder, ¼ ground black pepper, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of allspice, 1 tsp of dry mustard powder, 2 tsp of ground ginger and 2 tsp of ground bay leaf)
Now let’s put all these ingredients to work:
- Use a heavy-bottomed pot and place ¼ cup of vegetable oil.
- Place the chicken in the pot and season with the unique Gullah seasoning mixture.
- Brown the chicken on medium heat in the oil and seasoning for up to 8 minutes, then remove it and set it to the side for now.
- Add the onion to the pot for about 5 minutes or until tender.
- Place the chicken back into the pot and add the stock.
- Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to briskly simmer until the juices are clear and the chicken is fully cooked. This usually takes about 15 minutes, depending on your stove.
- Remove the chicken and set it to the side again.
- Carefully strain the stock into a bowl, remove the onion, and put the stock back into the pot.
- Use a separate heavy-bottomed pot to heat the butter on medium heat.
- Continuously whisk the flour into the butter until it turns dark brown. This usually takes about 10 minutes.
- Slowly whisk the mixture into the pot with the stock in it and bring it to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and briskly simmer it until the stock thickens. This usually takes about 5 minutes.
- Add the white rice into the pot with the stock mixture, return it to a simmer, and then place a cover. Continue the simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the rice is tender.
- Remove the chicken meat from the bones and dice the meat. You can get rid of the bones in the trash.
- In a separate clean heavy-bottomed pot, use the remaining ¼ cup of the vegetable oil and add the carrots and pepper. Let them sauté for about 3 minutes, then add the chicken and sausage, then heat through.
- Add the chicken, sausage, and carrot mixture to the rice and mix it well. Then cook until heated through.
This delicious recipe feeds up to 8 people and is easy to double and triple, depending on how many people you plan to feed. As you can see, there’s a lot of removing the chicken and from the same pot. This is because the Gullah people usually only had one pot in their slave living quarters, and they needed to use the same pot for everything. They perfected the one-pot meal using this technique.
There is a wide range of Gullah recipes that are found in restaurants throughout Edisto Island. Popular Gullah dishes include shrimp and grits, sautéed shrimp and okra, peaches and cream pie, fried corn cakes, and of course Gullah rice.
Since rice was plentiful, the Gullah people made various dishes and incorporated local foods such as chicken, sausage, pork, oysters, shrimp, okra, carrots, onions, and more. They combined the flavors to perfection, and the result is amazing rice dishes that are well known in Southern cuisine today!
Would you like to tap into this incredible culture and learn more about their food, recipes, artwork, and music? If so, Edisto Island is the place you need to visit! The island is filled with Gullah history, including their famous sweetgrass baskets. Not to mention the plentiful restaurants that serve Gullah recipes and food! Visit Edisto Island and bring a bit of Gullah culture back home with you to enjoy for years to come!