The Big Boys Curry Book

Pilau Rice

The esplanade in Gopalpur, Orrisa

There are many recipes for Pilau (or Pilaf) but the basic method is that you cook rice and other ingredients together. This simple recipe is just a starter for a basic Pilau but you could expand it by adding sultanas, almonds, cashew nuts, cooked chicken or lamb, peas, mushrooms or in other words just about anything. The colour in this recipe comes from turmeric but could come from saffron.Cooking rice is often a problem for people who do not cook a lot of it.There are two main methods, absorption where the rice is cooked gently and absorbs the water and retains all of its starch. We use this method for Pilau. The other method where you use a lot of water and drain it off and wash the rice with hot then cold water is best used for preparing rice for frying as it loses most of the starch (and much of the goodness). I read a DeliaSmith article recently and she recommends using as a wide a pan as you can for cooking rice. I tried it and it worked well. She also says you do not need to wash and soak rice for plain boiled rice which I do not agree with, which just proves that cooking is an individual thing.Pilau requires Basmati or better rice, so do not stint on this. For portions I use my hand, two handfuls of dry rice per person. This gives about half a cup or about 3oz (85g) per person. It is not an exact science. The amount of water you use is based on the dry weight of the rice. Use 1 litre per 450g, 1.75 pints (or 4 cups) per 1lb. Scale up or down as required. The recipe below is for 1lb (450g) rice which will serve 4 to 6 people.


  • 1lb (450g) Basmati rice
  • 1.75 pints (1 litre) water
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 4 green cardomoms, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of Mace Flower">mace flower (optional)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 inch of cinnamon broken
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • 3oz (75g) of unsalted butter or ghee


  1. Wash rice until water runs clear, drain in seive and set aside
  2. Melt butter in pan and add all other ingredients except turmeric and fry gently until bay leaf starts to brown.
  3. Add turmeric and mix, then add the rice and mix well to ensure all grains are coated. Fry gently for a minute.
  4. Add water, turn heat high and bring to boil. Stir rice once before it boils
  5. When rice starts to boil, turn the heat right down, cover pan with lid and allow to cook for 15 minutes or so until all the water is absorbed. Stir gently once only with a broad bowled wooden spoon or spatula after about 5 minutes.
  6. Once cooked, remove lid and take off heat. Gently remove rice to serving bowl or serve to the table in the pan after a gentle lifting with a fork.

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