Every December, the members of my home town of Latta, South Carolina (all 1,361 of us!) get together for a Pig Pickin’ at our parks and recreation center. The festivities center around community, tradition and food. We all wait near the bonfire in a long line of friends and neighbors that leads to the assembly line of folks who spend many hours preparing and serving the meal.
As you may have guessed, one of the main features at the Pig Pickin’ is South Carolina style barbeque (NC barbeque’s got nothing on SC barbeque by the way). However, the celebrity guest of the dinner is a regional food called chicken bog.
Chicken bog originated out of the need for a staple food that could be prepared in large quantities for community gatherings like the Latta, SC Pig Pickin’. Typically cooked in a large cauldron, chicken bog traditionally consists of only boiled chicken, sausage, rice, salt and pepper (and an onion if you’re gettin’ fancy). Why’s it called a bog? Good question. The chicken, sausage and spices are cooked first and then rice is added to absorb all of the liquid put off by the meats (and maybe that fancy onion) so the rice literally gets bogged down.
When served in the traditional manner, the bones of the chicken are left in while the chicken bog is cooking and its the diner’s task to pick them out as they go along. Thankfully, in my home town, our chicken bog connoisseurs are nice enough to debone the chicken before adding the rice. So if someone finds a bone in their chicken bog, they know it was an accident and they’re nice enough not to mention it to the chef.
Perhaps the greatest thing about chicken bog is its novelty. Even residents of the states bordering South Carolina have no idea what it is. In the Low Country region (the area surrounding Charleston) the dish is referred to as chicken “purloo.” It’s only in the Pee Dee area (which includes Latta) and the Grand Strand (the area surrounding Myrtle Beach) that you will encounter “chicken bog” — the food, the myth, the mystery.
And if you find yourself in South Carolina for some extended period of time, you will soon find that this simple yet savory bog isn’t just found at Pig Pickin’: it’s everywhere. Remember when you had to sell chocolate bars to go on that class trip in high school? I don’t. If there were funds to be raised for any reason, we did it by selling chicken bog.
Volunteers from the community come together throughout the year to spend a whole day preparing for a chicken bog fundraiser. Pounds upon pounds of yellow and white rice are measured and bagged for each batch. Spices are added. Outside, a host of people boil and debone unbelievable quantities of chicken while, inside, others painstakingly attempt to slice mountains of sausage. It’s not until the following day that the chicken bog is actually cooked and as many as 4,000 plates of it are dished up to people from all over the county.
The low overhead cost and high turnout often yields significant profit which goes towards something constructive — like that class trip, a chronically ill community member’s medical bills or the construction of a ramp on a disabled person’s home. Chicken bog is a dish cooked and served by and for the community.
Rightfully called a staple food, the process of preparing and eating chicken bog binds together communities in South Carolina.
My Mamma’s Chicken Bog Recipe
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 40 min
6 cups water
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1 whole chicken
1 cup yellow rice
1/2 lb. smoked sausage
2 chicken bouillon cubes
hot sauce of choice
1. Add water, salt and chicken to pot and bring to a boil.
2. Cook chicken thoroughly then remove from pot and let cool. Reserve cooking liquid.
3. Once cool, skin and debone chicken, then pull it apart into small pieces.
4. Transfer 3 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid to a pot large enough to hold the finished product. Chop sausage into bite sized pieces. Add chicken, sausage, bouillon, liquid smoke, pepper and rice to the pot.
5. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes keeping the pot covered at all times. Stir often. When at desired consistency, add hot sauce to taste.