Chicken Pulao Recipe
Aromatic and flavorful Pakistani Chicken Pulao is made in one pot and comes together in under 45 minutes with only 15 minutes of active cooking/prep. Weeknight friendly and also great for guests. It is very simple and a delicious recipe which mainly consists of rice, chicken and some spices. Let’s see how to make Chicken Pulao in an easy way.
As long as you have your whole spices in tow, Pulao requires simple ingredients:
BROTH (YAKHNI) INGREDIENTS
Whole spices: You’ll need coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon, green cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, and cloves. The ratio of the whole spices is balanced so that no one spice is detectable in the final broth. But as always, if you’re missing a spice or two, omit & proceed!
Bone-in Chicken: I use cut-up, skinless, whole chicken pieces that are naturally small. I find halal meat markets to have smaller-sized chickens. They weigh around 2.5 lb per chicken as opposed to the 3-4 lb chickens you’ll see at supermarkets.
Using goat (mutton), lamb, or beef in place of chicken: This recipe is easy to adapt to other meats. The main difference will be an increase in cook time for the meat, which will consequently require more water. Goat or lamb meat will take about 2 hours of gentle simmering. Beef will take longer, roughly 3 hours. You want to ensure the stock is concentrated, so only top with as much water needed to cook the meat.
Onion: I’ve used yellow onion here but red onion works just as well.
CHICKEN PULAO INGREDIENTS
Ghee & oil: As usual, I love blending both for a balance of flavor and fluidity.
Plain, whole-milk yogurt: Whisked, room temperature yogurt is the way to go to prevent curdling, but you’ll be fine even if you plop it in cold. It’ll eventually meld in with the broth and rice. Feel free to increase the yogurt if you’re not using tomatoes.
Tomatoes: I use Roma because of the lower water content. As I mentioned earlier, most people prefer pulao without tomatoes. I love the vibrant flavor they add, but I’ve tried the pulao without them and it was still beautiful. So, with a heavy heart, I’ve made the tomatoes optional.
Aged, long-grain basmati rice: I’ve learned that this rice is tougher and is more resilient to excess liquid than other types of rice. That said, any rice will work as long as it’s aged, long-grained rice.
More whole spices: Though the stock is infused with the flavors of the whole spices, I still find them essential within the rice. 1 – Blooming them in oil brings out a different element of their flavor and 2 – Just like in Chicken Birayni, whole spices within the dish make it festive and wholesome. That said, if you’d rather not have any whole spices in the pulao, feel free to either add more spices to the stock, or substitute with 1/2 tsp ground garam masaa while making the pulao.
Green chili peppers: I use 2 Thai chili peppers or 1 serrano for an appropriate amount of kick. Of course, you can adjust this amount as you’d like.
Black Pepper & Garam Masala Powder: I use these ground spices for a final touch of aroma and texture. They’re not strong or distracting to the final dish, but you can use less or omit if you prefer not to use.
Cilantro & Mint: I add these after cooking the rice so they maintain flavor and
color. I find mint leaves to be non-negotiable in Chicken Pulao, but cilantro alone works just fine.
HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN PULAO (KEY TIPS)
The first thing you’ll do, and I find this the easiest part, is make the stock. Just throw in all stock ingredients and allow it to gently simmer away until the chicken is cooked.
HOW TO COOK THE CHICKEN PERFECTLY
For tender chicken with maximum flavor, you want to ensure it cooks in the gentlest heat possible. For more robust flavor, you can allow it to rest for a couple hours or refrigerate up to 48 hours. To prevent the cooked chicken from breaking while it’s sautéing (“bhunai“), make sure it’s just cooked but not falling off the bone. This takes my chicken around 20 minutes. When in doubt, take a bite. If you could eat it as-is, turn off the heat.
Use a tong or slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the stock, then strain the stock. Discard the remaining spices and onion. Next, measure the broth and add water as needed to make 2 3/4
cups. Simple evaporation science says that simmering the liquid will reduce it. But, with the lid on and the containment of chicken juices, mostly I’m right where I started – 2 3/4 cups.
In all pulaos, the onions will determine the color of your rice. It’s important to be patient with them, stir frequently, and deglaze the pan to help them brown
evenly. You also don’t want to brown them too much before adding the garlic, ginger, and chicken, because they’ll continue to brown until you add the acidic ingredients like tomatoes and yogurt.
Sauté the chicken so that you can see color go from pale to lightly golden, but not too long or it’ll darken. Stir in the tomatoes (if using), yogurt, and green chili peppers and sauté gently so the chicken doesn’t break. Once the oil starts to separate, you’re ready to add the broth.
Troubleshooting tip: If you find that the chicken has indeed cooked too much and is starting to break, use a tong to remove it from the pan and continue with the recipe. Then gently stir back in after the rice comes to a boil. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Then drain the rice well so you’re not adding any excess water.
While you’re bringing everything back up to a boil, this is a good time to do a final salt test, as the rice has begun to take up some of the salt.
Now let’s move on to the final,never-again-intimidating step: cooking the rice perfectly!
HOW TO COOK THE RICE PERFECTLY
To start, you want to ensure basic rice essentials such as gently washing the rice until the water runs clear and soaking according to the recipe. For the pot, I’ve found a non-stick Dutch oven (5.5 quart) to be the best at preventing the rice from sticking to the bottom. Once all this is in place, here are a few tips to ensure perfect rice, every time.
KNOW YOUR RICE
Rice to water ratio: From the survey, I learned that to cook 1 cup of basmati rice, most people use anywhere between 1.5 to 2 cups of water. 1.5 cups of my rice needs 3 cups to cook on the stovetop, but for this recipe I accommodate for the extra moisture from the other ingredients. If you cook rice often, use your usual ratio. So if you normally use 1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of rice, I use 2 1/4 cup broth for 1.5 cups of rice.
Avoid stirring while cooking: I learned this tip from my friend Kathryn at Cardamom and Tea and, surprisingly, also from my rice cooker. Once the rice starts cooking, just let it be. Stirring runs the risk of breaking the rice kernels and interfering with the buildup of heat.
Let it rest even after steaming: Keep the lid on even after you’ve turned off the heat. As Kathryn says, “leaving the rice covered will allow it to gently coast to perfect doneness.” This final rest is crucial and can cover any prior misgivings.
Don’t stir even after cooking: The only reason to stir cooked rice is because resting the rice too long can make it clumpy or stick to the bottom. Use a rice paddle (not a fork) to fluff, but stirring, especially with a fork, increases the risk of breaking the rice kernels.
SIMMER, THEN STEAM
Pulao is generally made by simmering the rice until most of the water has absorbed or evaporated, and then turning the heat down for a final steam, or dum.
Simmer, don’t boil: The key here is to keep the heat on medium or medium-high so that it simmers, but doesn’t aggressively boil. This gives the long grains time to soak up the liquid as it cooks off.
To cover or not to cover: I’ve tried letting the rice simmer uncovered, partially covered, and fully covered. My happy medium (i.e. the least likely to mess with the water/rice ratio) is when the lid is partially covered.
HOW TO STEAM (DUM)
How to know it’s ready to steam: When most of the water from the surface has absorbed or evaporated and you begin to see something like potholes forming in the top layer of the rice (see video!), it’s ready for a final steam.
Cover the lid with a cloth: I use old kitchen linens or a cotton cloth. The goal is to contain the steam while absorbing any extra moisture that could otherwise lead to soggy rice.
Lastly, relax: Remember, if you’ve given your rice enough time to cook, even if you steam a little too soon or a little too late, you’ll be fine. There’s plenty of give with the steaming with cloth + resting method.