Rice Pilaf

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Rice Pilaf

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.

Rice Pilaf Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8

To save time, my mother heats the stock separately, at the same time that the rice is browning. This way the stock doesn't take as long to come to a boil when you go to cook the rice. But, you don't have to do it that way. You can easily add cold stock to the rice to cook it, it will just take longer to come to a simmer.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white rice (preferably long grain)
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or chicken fat)
  • 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 salt or 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.

Method

1 Heat stock in saucepan: 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 Brown the rice, add onions and celery: While the stock is heating, heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the olive oil (or chicken fat if you have it) to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the uncooked rice and brown the rice, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes.

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When the rice has browned, add the onions and celery and cook a few minutes longer, until the onions begin to soften.

3 Add salt, pepper, cayenne: 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 salt or 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 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 Add stock, cook the rice: Pour the heated stock into the pan with the rice (or pour the rice mixture into the stock, depending on which pan has a lid).

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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.

5 Fluff with fork, stir in parsley: 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.

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Rice Pilaf

Showing 4 of 16 Comments

  • Misty Bastoni

    This was delicious and my entire family loved it! I used half olive oil and half butter and the yellow onion. I did not have any cayenne on hand so I used smoked paprika, which added a nice mild smokey flavor. This one will become a regular. Thanks for sharing.

  • Gaby

    I was also skeptical of the celery but it was so perfect! 1st time making pilaf. I used a Mixed Rice package (brown & wild combo) and it worked brilliantly. I also used olive oil/ butter combo and yellow onion. Thanks for sharing this method and thanks to your momma!

  • Holly

    The rice was so fluffy and FLAVOURSOME! I made this to pair with a Moroccan chicken recipe (on this website) and it was perfect. I think my partner loved the rice more.. ha ha.

  • Bill

    For stock, I often use the liquid from canned mushrooms, which I save in a container in the freezer until I have enough for batch. Sometimes I also include the mushrooms, sometimes I don’t.

  • Neil Pragnell

    Well done Mom! This pilaf is a ripper! I make a lot of rice dishes and was a little skeptical of the celery but it works brilliantly. I made it for friends 2 nights ago and I loved it. When something you make yourself tastes outstanding it must be good. Thank you so much.

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