” I like rice. Rice is great if you are hungry and want 2000 of something”.

Mitch Hedbert

Pulao is not just any rice dish, its a celebration of rice! A centrepiece for any festive table that exudes the old world charm of Central Asia and Persia, and tells stories of ancient conquests, grand rulers and nomadic shepherds who were all instrumental somehow in perfecting this glorious dish into an aromatic glory.

Originally the dish was prepared with goat or sheep meat. A hearty and aromatic yakhni/stock was cooked with meat, fennel, coriander seeds and onions. The the rice were first fried briefly with caramelized onions and then cooked in the meat stock till each grain was plumped to perfection, separate and fluffy.

Chicken pulao became more popular during the supremacy of muslim Nawab culture. They say, the Awadhi chefs often fed their domestic fowls musk and saffron so when they cooked pulao with those lavish bird, the fragrance spread through the entire neighbourhood, speaking volumes of their skill and the luxurious ways of the household.

Well, in modern times, we have neither the resources of the royal chefs, nor the time and patience of the Persians cooks who let the rice sit in salted water for several hours to make it shimmer like crystals, but we still love a hearty plate of chicken pulao.

During one such quick craving bouts for pulao, I converted the recipe to a one pot preparation. I omitted frying the rice separately with caramelised onions and spices, and instead made the yakhni/stock with caramelised onions and meat. Since chicken doesn’t take too long to cook, I was very happy with the result.

The ready dish of one pot chicken pulao has lovely fragrance of fennel and coriander with subtle flavours from basic whole spices.

Cooking perfect pulao every time is kind of tricky as with a little carelessness you can make a real mess of a rice dish.
No one likes a pulao if the rice are clumped up or become sticky. Here are a few tips to cooking perfect rice every time;
-Always choose a deep, wide-mouthed pan for cooking rice so that they can expand to their full capacity without getting mushy.
-As a rule of thumb add 1 level teaspoon salt per 1 cup rice.
-The water or broth in which you are cooking rice should be an inch higher than the surface of rice.
-Keep the heat at medium. As soon as the water dries up and the rice are still slightly moist, turn the heat to lowest possible, place a skillet under the pan, wrap the lid of pan into a clean kitchen towel, so that no steam escapes from the pan and the towel absorbs extra moisture from the rice (we call this technique ‘to put rice on dum’).
-Leave the rice on dum for a few minutes or till the grains are no more glutinous.

For Chicken Pulao :
1/2 kg chicken, cut up
2 1/2 cups long grained basmati rice, soaked
1 onion
2 small tomatoes, diced (1 cup)
2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
1/4 cup yogurt
2 pods black cardamom
4 pods green cardamom
2 sticks cinnamon
5-6 pepper corns
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garam masala (ground mixed spices)
1/3 cup ghee or cooking oil
green chilli pepper and fresh coriander leaves and green chilli peppers

This Is What You Do :
Heat oil in a deep pan with a wide mouth over medium heat. Fry onions till they are brown (not burnt).

Add chicken pieces and fry them. Add ginger-garlic paste,black cardamoms, green cardamoms, cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds,fennel seeds, salt, garam masala, a few green chillies and yogurt.

Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan for two minutes.

Add rice and tomatoes, add enough water to immerse rice (1 inch over the surface of rice).Cover the pan and let simmer for almost 10-15 minutes or till the rice are tender and most of the broth has dried up.

Reduce heat to minimum, place a skillet over the heat and the rice pan on the skillet, wrap the lid in kitchen towel and cover the pan tightly.

Leave on ‘dum’for another 5-10 minutes. The rice shall be ready when they are no more starchy.

Garnish with chopped green chilli pepper and coriander leaves. Serve hot with mint raita and fresh salad.

Serves 4

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