Wondering what side dish to make for dinner? This perfect rice pilaf never goes out of style and should be a staple in your cooking repertoire. It pairs with any protein and many cuisines. I served it alongside this lovely Roasted Chicken with Silky Pan Gravy.
The word pilaf refers to several aspects of the dish. Mostly it means cooking rice with broth and aromatics – those vegetables and such that make things taste good. Pilaf also refers to sautéeing the rice before adding liquid.
Mise en place … more sexy French
Mise en place, everything in its place. It’s a beautiful thing because it saves so much time. And who has that to waste? On any ordinary evening, I set up my cooking prep much like this. I figure out what I need to prep for what I’m cooking and the most efficient way to tackle that.
For example, if I need onions in a chicken dish that will roast in the oven for an hour and also in this rice pilaf that I’ll make 45 minutes later, I’ll cut up all the needed onion at one time. I usually put my ingredients on a dinner plate or two. Little ramekins are perfect for this purpose as well.
The only chefs I’ve known who don’t practice this – even in their own personal cooking – are frazzled disorganized ones.
Simple procedures for great rice pilaf flavor
To start your rice pilaf, heat a saucepan, add butter, sweat your vegetables. Stir in the rice and sauté until it’s well coated and becomes golden. Add garlic after the rice sautés (so it doesn’t burn by the time the rice toasted.)
You can skip the rice sauté, but I wouldn’t. Allowing the rice to become golden, at least in spots, brings out a lovely, nutty flavor. Don’t walk away during this step. It will burn faster than you can say
Pour in some broth, seasonings, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, give a fluff with a fork and dinner is ready.
A note on rice cookery
I’ll address rice cookery in more detail in a separate post, but the gist is to follow the package directions for rice to liquid ratios. The rice manufacturers know what they’re doing and want you to buy their product again so usually they are spot on.
We human beings love to tinker with things and stir our dishes often. We like to check up on them. Stirring is kinda fun and makes us feel involved. It’s also the fastest way to achieve gummy sticky rice.
There’s a very good reason to combine your rice and liquid, give it one stir, cover it and LEAVE IT ALONE while it cooks. The more you stir your rice, the more you release its starch and create a sticky mass.
When your timer goes off, lift the lid and check it. If you tilt the pan and see liquid accumulating on the side, it needs a few minutes. If you see holes in the rice that look like someone poked in a pencil, it’s done.
Remove from the heat and leave it alone until you’re ready to transfer it to a serving bowl. At that time, taste it, adjust seasonings, add some butter, herbs, lemon zest, whatever you like. Give it a quick fluff and stir with a fork and be done.
What’s up with bay leaves, anyway?
Dried bay leaves hold a bit of mystery. They’re a bit weird, kinda crumbly and look the same when you take them out of a pot roast as when you put them in two hours earlier. To learn about their flavor, a simple rice test is a terrific vehicle.
Next time you make some plain white rice, divide the cooking between two small saucepans. Place a bay leaf in one, but not the other. The bay leaf imparts a subtle, herby, piney (in a good way) note. Be sure to always remove bay leaves before serving your dish.
Perfect Rice Pilaf
- 1/2 rib celery
- 1 small carrot
- 1/2 small onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup rice, white or brown, your choice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- zest of 1 lemon, if desired
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Finely chop the celery, carrot, and onion.
- Heat a medium saucepan and add the butter. Saute the vegetables for about 5 minutes, but do not color.
- Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until golden, approximately 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Pour in the broth, salt & pepper, and bay leaf. Give it a quick stir.
- Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and barely simmer on low heat. Don’t stir. Cook for 20 minutes, or however long your rice states on the package, then check for doneness. Tilt the pot and see if there is still liquid to the side. If so, cook for another few minutes. If there is just a little moisture throughout, let sit covered. If you see holes in the rice when you lift the lid, it’s done.
- Taste rice and adjust seasonings. Remove the bay leaf and add parsley and lemon zest, if using. Fluff with a fork and serve.
- Adjust your cooking time to the variety of rice you’ve used. White rice will cook in 20 minutes, give or take. Traditional brown rice will take about 45 minutes, whereas brown Basmati, one of my favorites, cooks in 20 minutes.
- You can begin this dish on the stovetop and finish it in the oven. Just bring the rice and liquid up to a boil, cover tightly then, then finish it in a 350° oven. Convenient and energy saving if the rest of your meal is in the oven.