Pilau

…is another word for rice pilaf, which is one of the first things I can remember learning how to cook.

Mom always made it in her big old flame orange Le Creuset French oven, which I always assumed was called a "rice pilaf pot." I really don't remember her making much else in it. She still has it, I think; the enamel is nearly worn off the bottom of the pot, the insides are permanently darkened, but it still produces damn fine rice pilaf.

We had sirloin steak in the refrigerator (thanks, Mom!), and Jim wanted to make steak au poivre, so I decided to make pilaf to go with it in my own Le Creuset French oven (again, thanks, Mom!).

I love making pilaf, because (a) it's so ingrained in my mind that I don't need a recipe, and (b) it's a uniquely sensual thing to cook. Getting it right depends entirely on listening for the sound of the butter hissing in the pan, looking for the edges of the rice grains to turn translucent as they saute, smelling the onions as they slowly soften into unctuous goodness. It's not a bit hard, and it's entirely rewarding.

Here's how I make it (and yes, I know there are probably as many variations on rice pilaf as there are cooks who cook it):

Rice Pilaf
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, cut into eighths and thinly sliced–you can also just chop it, but I kind of like the larger onion pieces
1.5 cups long-grain white rice
A handful (probably about 3 oz.) of thin pasta–vermicelli is nice; what I had on hand today was spaghetti–broken into roughly 2" lengths
About 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2.5 cups chicken or vegetable broth–if you don't have homemade on hand, as I didn't today, it's nice to make it with Better than Bouillon with water from an electric kettle so it's piping hot when it goes into the pot and doesn't take forever to boil
A couple pinches of salt
A few generous grinds of black pepper
2-3 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional–I didn't have any this time)

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. When it's hot enough that a bit of onion dropped into it sizzles, add the onion, rice, and pasta; cook, stirring frequently, until pasta begins to toast, onion becomes limp and edges of rice grains turn translucent. This will probably take about 5 minutes. Somewhere in there, sprinkle the crushed red pepper into the pot and keep stirring. If you're making the broth from Better than Bouillon or another chicken base, take advantage of this time to heat up the water.

Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit, lid undisturbed, for 5 more minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste; stir in chopped fresh parsley, if you like; serve forth. Good with pan-seared steak, baked chicken, roasted vegetables or just about anything else, really.

Variation: Replace 1/2 cup of the chicken broth with 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Mmmm.

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About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
This entry was posted in Food and Drink, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Pilau

  1. The first thing I learned to cook was German potato soup with bacon. For about 3 months I made it every weekend. Then my family hated me so much, that I quit. And then I made lentil soup instead. But only a couple of times. I didn’t want to piss them off.
    Weird, in my world, the French oven is called a Dutch oven. What’s wrong with me? By the way, I use it to make no knead bread. Yum!!

  2. Elizabeth O'Connor says:

    Yum, this sounds like a perfect from-the-pantry dish.

  3. Herm says:

    I still find mom’s pilaf the most delicious, comforting food in the world. I could eat cups and cups of it.

  4. Lynn says:

    Molly,
    You know you’re a good writer when someone like me (cooking first: cinnamon toast)leaves your blog wanting to go cook something! 🙂

  5. paula says:

    mine is flame orange too!

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