How To Make Jamaican Rice & Peas: My Mother's Recipe

Learn how to make perfect rice and peas, with this recipe from Catherine Ross and Lynda-Louise Burrell - from The National Caribbean Heritage Museum. The mother and daughter duo share some of the history behind this recipe, and explain exactly what you need to make it.


The rice and peas will go well with Lynda's recipe for oxtail stew. You can stock up on Caribbean Food & Ingredients here

You can also hear from Lynda's mother Catherine about celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Windrush and her Caribbean food memories. As well as read Lynda's recipes for a traditional Jamaican Celebration lunch



Rice on its own is delicious. Caribbeans call the dish, plain rice, but with the addition of peas, it’s twice as nice. Eaten for generations in many households at least once or twice a week, rice and peas is a transported tradition to the UK by the Windrush Generation.


What is rice and peas?

Well, first of all, rice and peas isn’t just a Jamaican dish – it’s eaten and loved throughout the Caribbean – one or twice a week, or even every day.

The Windrush Generation brought the tradition with them to the UK, where it’s become a firm favourite for food lovers everywhere.

Being a Caribbean with dual heritage, I think I can cook a mean rice and peas and know more than a morsel or two about Caribbean cuisine as a whole.

I’m cooking rice and peas Jamaican-style. My Dad was Jamaican and my mother was born in St Kitts, so when I was growing up, my parents would cook rice and peas according to the tradition of their birth island, depending on who was cooking that day!

So, back to the kitchen, and a look at the ingredients needed to create rice and peas…


Ingredients needed to make rice and peas

How do you make rice and peas?

Basmati or long grain rice is the rice of choice for rice and peas, brought to the boil in a liquid that includes water, coconut milk, and herbs and spices, then turned down to a gentle simmer until it’s cooked.

Some people also use vegetable stock or broth to enhance the flavour of the rice, but you will need to check the saltiness of your cooking liquid before adding the salt referred to in the recipe.

If you want to be adventurous and add a scotch bonnet pepper to your dish, remember to keep the pepper whole and remove it whole after the rice is cooked. If it pops, it will leave a very hot taste that could burn your mouth!

Why is it called rice and peas?

...the most popular 'pea' is kidney beans, or red peas as they’re known in the Caribbean...

You’ve heard the phrase “Beanz Meanz Heinz”? Well, to a Caribbean “Beanz Meanz Peaz”. “Mi nah know why”. I lapse into patois here because I don’t the answer, and it just feels appropriate to do so!

The answer I think is lost in the mists of time, and now that’s just the way it is! We Caribbeans eat all kinds of different peas/beans, but the most popular is kidney beans, or red peas as they’re known in the Caribbean.

Other popular peas and traditional favourites include pigeon peas, black-eyed peas and yellow and green split peas. Pigeon peas are also known as gungo peas which are eaten all year round, especially at Christmas. Some say the name “pigeon peas” came from the practice of feeding the peas to pigeons in Barbados!

Why not vary the peas you use in your rice and peas? Each type of pea has a unique look, colour, flavour and texture and will bring something unique and special to your dish.


Are dried or tinned peas better?

Traditionally, dried peas would be used to create this colourful, flavoursome dish, as the peas were brought to the Caribbean to feed enslaved Africans, during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In more recent times however, many people in the Caribbean now grow peas in their “yard” – the land at the back of their house, while here in the UK, Caribbeans often grow peas in their gardens and allotments.

When freshly-picked peas are used, it gives the dish a flavour that’s hard to describe. The word “delicious” does not do it justice!

Tinned peas are also a popular choice of course, and perfect for today’s busy lifestyles. I’ve been known to use tinned gungo beans myself, but that’s our secret, don’t tell my Granny!

If you opt for using tinned peas, I’d recommend adding half a teaspoon of gravy browning to the saucepan (or “to the pot” as Caribbeans would say) – just to bring back some of the colour and flavour to your rice.


Where does rice and peas come from?

Back in the day, before tinned peas were widely available in the UK, the Windrush Generation used dried peas.

These had to be soaked overnight and cooked slowly until they were tender and edible before the rice and other ingredients were added to the pot.

When pressure cookers became a common feature in many post-war UK homes, Windrushers used them to tenderise peas.

It was so much quicker and easier and made it possible for families to enjoy Caribbean meals together during the week, especially those who worked shifts or had more than one job.


How does rice and peas vary across the Caribbean?

For many people when they think of Caribbean food, the dish that comes immediately to mind is rice and peas and chicken. But here’s the thing – not every island cooks it or serves it in the same way.

Which means you can have some real fun making it, whether as the main accompaniment to a range of meat dishes traditionally served in the Caribbean, or as a side dish to complete many a meal.

Variations abound when it comes to rice and peas, depending on the traditions of different Caribbean islands, and family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Here are a few facts for foodies:

  • In many Caribbean homes, rice and peas is a classic side dish forming part of the main meal on a Sunday.
  • In the Bahamas and a few other islands, rice and peas is known as peas and rice.
  • Some people add salt pork to the dish and reduce the amount of salt in the overall recipe.
  • Some islands cook their rice slightly differently. For instance, St Kitts prefers the rice to be a little wetter, while in Jamaica they prefer it a little dryer. In fact, Jamaicans are often teased by Caribbeans from other islands that their “rice is so dry, you can count the grains of rice!
  • It’s thought the word “gungo” could be an evolution of the name “Congo” – the country where the peas originated from.
  • Rice and peas is a vegan, plant-based dish and the peas are a great source of protein.

So, there you have it. Rice and peas, both heritage crops of Africa, have been enjoyed together as a dish by those of African descent and others since the 1600s.


What can you serve with rice and peas?

Rice and peas can be served with anything and everything, but it’s usually served with roasted, fried, stewed, or curried meat such as chicken or pork, or with fish or seafood. A classic Sunday lunch for many Caribbeans would feature rice and peas as a side dish, or as the main accompaniment to meat or fish.

Rice and peas is also delicious served with a green salad or coleslaw, or with root vegetables known as “hard food” in the Caribbean, such as yams, sweet potatoes, green bananas or plantains.

Fried plantain, and cheese and macaroni are also popular accompaniments to many Caribbean meals not just a Sunday lunch.


Recipe for rice and peas

Cook’s note

Before we get started with the cooking, if you want to be adventurous and add scotch pepper to the cooking of the rice and peas, it’s important to remember to use the pepper whole, and remove it after the rice is cooked. A taste warning – do not pop the pepper. Use it whole, and remove it whole, to avoid a very hot taste that will burn your mouth!

Serves 4 Caribbean-style portions i.e. large, or 6 usual servings!


  • 500g basmati or long grain rice
  • 200g dried red kidney or gungo peas (or, 400g can of gungo or red kidney peas, including the liquid, (if using canned peas add ½ tsp browning, Maggis liquid seasoning or dark soy sauce)
  • 100g creamed coconut pieces (follow preparation instructions on package) or, 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated or minced to a paste
  • 4 springs fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp pimento berries (allspice)
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose seasoning
  • 1 to 2 tsp salt, to taste (adjust to taste if you are added salt pork)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper
  • ½ cup water (can add up to a further 140ml if needed)


  1. Rinse the rice in cold water. Do this about 2-3 times before cooking it.
  2. Empty canned peas and liquid into a Dutch pot or large saucepan.
  3. Fill empty can with water and pour in saucepan. (Optional, add ½ tsp gravy browning, Maggis liquid seasoning or dark soy sauce to give the rice a darker colour and an enhanced taste).
  4. Add chopped onion, spring onion, garlic, thyme, pimento berries also known as allspice, all-purpose seasoning, salt and black pepper, and a whole scotch bonnet pepper.
  5. Add a piece of a block of creamed coconut (prepared as the package directs) or coconut milk and simmer for 5- 10 minutes.
  6. Add rice, stir, and boil on a high heat for 2 minutes.
  7. Turn heat to low and cook covered until all water is absorbed (approx. 20 min).
  8. Check that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  9. Add more water if rice is sticking or needed.
  10. Remove the scotch bonnet pepper whole, the sprig of thyme, and a whole spring onion.
  11. Mix the rice from the bottom then, let it rest for 5 minutes before fluffing with fork before serving.
© Speciality Cooking Supplies Limited 2024

Feeling Inspired? Pair the rice and peas with oxtail stew or a whole Caribbean feast!

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    1 comment

    • Thanks for sharing your family recipe,I’m a massive lover of Caribbean food, and actually from Nottm x. Fell upon your web vid while researching rice n pea recipes lol.

      Be great to see more of your food vids if you can please send me a link x

      Best Regards
      Larry d

      Larry on

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