Trying to get a recipe out of my mother is like pulling teeth. Mom doesn’t follow recipes. After 50 years of cooking for her family she doesn’t need to. She cooks instinctively, pulling ingredients from what we have on hand, making substitutions or additions as she sees fit. Taste testing here and there for a little more of this or that. To get a recipe out of her I have to watch her make something, take copious notes, and ask a lot of questions. For each seemingly innocuous question, there can be a dissertation’s worth of answers. “Well, Adele Davis did it this one way, Diane Kennedy did it this other way, and I do it this way because (fill in the blank… my pot is too big, I’m using an electric range, we don’t have any fresh cilantro.. etc. etc.)” My mother is never one to give someone the time when a thorough explanation of how the watch works and how they made clocks in China 2000 years ago will do. (Mom is a treasure trove of knowledge and I will never catch up to her, even if I cook every day for the next 40 years.)
Here is how my mother makes her rice pilaf. It isn’t a precise recipe because much depends on the type of rice and the type and amount of stock you have. But then again, rice pilaf is one of those foundation dishes that you can dress up in many different ways.
- 2 cups white rice (preferably long grain)
- 2 teaspoons of chicken fat or olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion - green onion (scallions) or yellow onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- Up to 4 cups of stock (amount depends on the type of rice you are using), either chicken stock or vegetable stock for vegetarian option, or a mix of water and stock*
- 2 teaspoons of seasoned salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
*For gluten-free version, use gluten-free stock.
1 Look at the cooking instructions for your rice. If your rice calls for 2 cups of water for every cup of rice then you will need a total of 4 cups of liquid. If your rice calls for 1 2/3 cups of water for every cup of rice, you will need a total of 3 1/3 cups of liquid.
You want to cook the rice in a liquid that is primarily stock - chicken stock or vegetable stock. Up to half of the liquid can be plain water, but at least half of the needed liquid should be stock. Homemade stock is the best, of course, and will make a big difference in the quality of the resulting pilaf.
Heat the measured amount of stock needed in a saucepan, at least 2-qt sized.
2 While the stock is heating, heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the chicken fat (or oil), melting it so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add the uncooked rice and brown the rice, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and celery and cook a few minutes longer, until the onions begin to soften.
3 If you are using canned or boxed broth, be careful of how much seasoning you add. We usually use homemade, unsalted chicken stock, so we add 2 teaspoons of Vegesal (can use plain salt or other seasoned salt) along with ground pepper and a dash of cayenne. If you are starting with seasoned broth, you may only need to add a teaspoon of Vegesal or salt. Taste test the broth/stock. It can be a little on the salty side because the rice will absorb a lot of the salt.
4 Carefully empty the slightly browned rice into the saucepan with the stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for as long as the instructions say on your package of rice. Usually between 15 to 25 minutes. Use a timer. After the set amount of cooking time, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered. At no point during the cooking of the rice should you uncover the pan.
Note that you could also pour the stock into the pan with the rice, cover and cook. This is the more usual way to make pilaf. We have found however more consistent results by pouring the rice into the saucepan of stock.
Fluff with a fork to serve. Stir in chopped parsley. You can also mix in heated peas, toasted almonds, or raisins to the pilaf to make it more interesting.