Very subtly different from the Biryani is a Pilaf/Pulao. While Biryani is a rich, exotic delicacy created & served with a regal fervor; redolent with beautiful spices & packed the wonderful & unforgettable flavors, lip smacking goodness & heart warming memories – the Pilaf/Pulao is a more simple version of this royal dish.
If I could, I would cook up Biryani every single day (and of course eat it). Well all wishes don’t come true & often times it is better to resign to more uncomplicated taste & endeavor. Here comes the Chicken Pilaf; very easily made, no pre cooking the rice & meat, no careful layering, no “dum” or “steaming” as in Biryani. It is a very beautiful one pot meal, equally exotic with rich blend & flavors of spices as the Biryani (may be not quite:-D ); something I readily make over a relaxing weekend when the heart craves some goodies but the body screams “no work please” – & serve it with some fresh salad/cucumber & yogurt.
Ingredients: (Serves 4-5)
- 2 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast, cut into 1″ pieces (Use Soy Chunks or Mushroom or Paneer/Indian Cheese for a Vegetarian Version)
- Few small potatoes, halved (Optional)
- 1/2 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt or any thick Plain Yogurt
- 1 Very Large Onion, sliced into half moons + 1 Large Onion, sliced into thin half moons (For caramelizing & garnish)
- 2 Tablespoon grated Ginger or ginger paste
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic paste
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 3/4 Cup Fresh Mint
- 2″ Stick of Cinnamon
- 3–4 Green Cardamom pods, bruised (The big black ones may be used too)
- Freshly ground Black Pepper
- 3-4 Cloves
- 1/4 Teaspoon Saffron threads
- 2 Tablespoons Milk
- 1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
- 1 Teaspoon Turmeric
- 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter/Ghee or Oil (Ghee or butter makes the dish more fragrant) + 1 Tablespoon Oil
- 2 Cups Basmati rice
- 3/4 Cup Almonds (Soaked overnight & peeled)
- Salt & Black Pepper
- 1/2 Teaspoon Sugar
- 4.5 – 5 Cups Water
Note: You will see unpeeled almonds in the pilaf I made. It was unplanned & I did not have time to soak & peel, so we just peeled them while we ate:-D. But if you are making the pilaf please do soak & peel the almonds!
Marinate the chicken pieces in the yogurt, lemon, salt, ginger paste & garlic paste for about an hour.
Soak the saffron threads in warm milk.
Wash the Basmati rice till the water runs clear. Keep it soaked in water for 45 minutes to an hour. Drain & set aside.
Over medium heat, in a large pan with a lid, heat the Cinnamon, Cardamom & Cloves till fragrant. You cannot miss the aroma.
Melt the butter/ghee/oil in the same pan along with the above spices. Add the sliced onions (only 1 sliced onion, save the other one) & fry till the onions start to brown.
Separate as much marinade from the chicken as possible. Save the marinade & add the chicken pieces to the pan; Toss well along with the spices & onions & fry till you see brown spots on the chicken; Add the potatoes (if you are using them), rice & the almonds, stirring so the ghee/fat coats the rice, until glossy, for about 3-4 minutes.
Pour in the saffron & the milk; add the turmeric, black pepper, orange zest, mint leaves, salt & black pepper & stir everything together.
Combine the saved marinade with warm water, & whisk it so it is evenly mixed. Pour the water in the pan, stir everything together and bring it to a boil, then close the pan with a heavy lid and turn the heat down to very low. Cook like this for about 10–12 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed the liquid and be cooked through. Don’t peek.
After about 12 minutes open the lid, & check to see if the rice is cooked. It is okay if the rice is slightly stiff, cover it back & switch off the heat. The heat & the steam will cook the rice & the chicken.
While the rice is cooking, in a skillet heat the rest of the oil & add the rest of the onion & sugar & fry the onions till they are brown & caramelized. Add the caramelized onions to the pan, gently stir them in taking care not to mush up the rice. Cover it back & let it sit for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to infuse. (The caramelized onions imparts a fabulous aroma to the pilaf).
For Vegetarian Options: Use Chickpeas, Vegetables, Paneer or Soy Chunks instead of meat. The rest of the procedure of cooking will be same.
Serve with a salad & some yogurt on the side.
Did I say that every time I make this Pilaf, the family sniffs the air & will come & hover around the kitchen, waiting for it to be done, waiting to eat. Yes it is that fragrant, the kind where the tantalizing aroma fills the entire house & teases you.