Unless you have better than casual knowledge of the coastal South Carolina resort area of Myrtle Beach, you've likely never heard of Chicken Bog. If you are looking for an easy-to-prepare-in-large-quantities comfort food crowd-pleaser, you'll want to put this traditional Lowcountry dish in your catering repertoire.
Myrtle Beach is in Horry County (don't pronounce the H!), and its residents and their neighbors to the south in Georgetown County, at least the ones born and raised there, are rice eaters. Practically the whole area used to be rice plantations in antebellum days, so the readily available grain was eaten at almost every meal. Through the decades a big cast iron pot of rice with game meat was a dinner staple and a potluck favorite.
As time passed and fewer people hunted, chicken edged rabbit, duck and venison out of the pot. Slicing up smoked sausage and chunking that in the mix added just the right spiciness to give the meal character.
And that, basically, is Chicken Bog: rice, chicken and smoked sausage.
Timmy Johnson is a partner with his brother, Dennis Johnson, at a humble country diner west of the Horry County seat of Conway. The restaurant is called PullyBones, which is a colloquial reference to a chicken wishbone, and at least once a week Chicken Bog is one of the blue plate specials. A 10-quart batch is good for a day's worth of PullyBones devotees.
Timmy also makes Chicken Bog for community fund-raisers, and he has a few tips for making the job easier and the bog better.
"Don't ever use parboiled rice," he says. "I have used parboiled in the past when we've had fund-raisers for 1,500, 2,000 plates, but it's not as good as regular long grain rice."
Other tips include:
Use dark meat bone-in chicken leg quarters, because "it adds a little more fat to the meat, gives it a little more flavor and makes the rice a little more sticky."
Don't be afraid to experiment with ingredients. "Everybody's is a little better and a little different. Some put in ham, ground sausage, smoked sausage. I've even seen it with carrots in it."
When judging how much rice to add to the liquid, a good rule of thumb is to pour rice into the center of the pot until the rice mounds up just above the surface of the broth.
To avoid hard-to-clean pots with scorched rice on the bottom, once you've added rice and brought the pot back to a boil, cover the pot tightly with tin foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
In Georgetown County an almost identical dish is called Pileau (pronounced PERlow). The main difference is that more liquid is used, making the grains more separate and less sticky, or boggy.
Wayne Morris of Andrews, S.C., will be 70 years old soon, and has been cooking Pileau for 40 years. He remembers Pileau from when he was a child as just chicken and rice with little seasoning.
"Then we started adding different ingredients and cooking a different way," he says. "No two people cook it alike. Used to years ago, we'd take a big washpot, a big black iron pot, and cook Pileau with coals out in the yard. We'd cook it down on the river like that. You can use duck, squirrel, doves, any game. I've never done one with venison, but I've heard of people cooking venison like that."
Morris says big pots of Pileau make for "a very good fund-raiser," for "…Shriners, schools, churches…wherever there's a need or a person in need we'll have a fund-raiser for them."
Fall is the traditional Chicken Bog season, because it is a warm and hearty dish and because it's the start of hunting season. At community fund-raisers, catered events and other gatherings throughout fall and winter, Chicken Bog is a staple.
For the first time in September 2009, the City of Myrtle Beach sponsored a city employee Chicken Bog Championship. In the western part of Horry County, a small town called Loris has a festival called the Loris Bog-Off the third Saturday in October. At events such as these, sometimes the line between Pileau and Chicken Bog becomes blurred.
Previous Chicken Bog-Off champion Barry Ray actually makes Pileau, only he spells it perleau. He also has tips for any cook who wants success with a big batch. His tips include:
For additional flavor, use smoked meat stock instead of plain chicken broth.
To make the dish leaner, put stock in the refrigerator overnight, then remove the hardened fat that rises to the top before continuing with the recipe.
Measure stock and rice in an exact two-to-one ratio, then bring the mixture to a boil on top of the stove.
To finish the cooking process Ray puts his cast iron Dutch oven in the stove at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
"And I use Blue Ribbon rice to cook small quantities," he says. "For large amounts, I use Uncle Ben's because it's parboiled and is a lot more forgiving."
Timmy Johnson's Chicken Bog
8 leg quarters
Chicken base or bouillon, to taste
1 pound your favorite smoked sausage, sliced into bite-size pieces
1 big onion, chopped (or more, if desired)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Water and rice in about a 2:1 ratio
Place chicken leg quarters in a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a boil and cook just until they're about to fall apart, when you get the really good chicken juice and the juices turn the water yellowish. Remove chicken to platter or bowl to cool, and reserve the broth. When chicken is cool, remove meat from bones and shred. Bring broth back to boil, and add a little more water if you think you'll need it for the amount of bog you want to make. Add chicken base or bouillon at this point, if needed, along with shredded chicken, smoked sausage, chopped onion, salt and pepper. Simmer 1 hour. Add rice, stir and return to boil. Cover pot tightly with foil and place in 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest 5 minutes, uncover and serve.
Becky has been a food writer based in the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area since 1996. She has also been the secretary of the Myrtle Beach chapter of the American Culinary Federation for seven years.
She was a food and restaurant reporter for the area's daily newspaper and editor/writer of a regional fine dining magazine. She freelances food articles for various local, regional, national and international magazines and websites. Becky publishes daily restaurant news at MyrtleBeachRestaurantNews.com, conducts Lowcountry culinary tours through her business Grand Strand Culinary Tours and publishes an annual magazine called The Top 100 Grand Strand Restaurants.