Pilaf is one of those culinary words that refers both to the cooking method and the food that is cooked by that method. Another one is risotto, and it's sheer coincidence that both happen to be rice dishes, especially since I can't seem to think of another one right now.
As a matter of fact, the pilaf method and the risotto method are rather similar. They have more in common with each other than either one has with the standard boiling method of cooking rice, where rice goes in the pot, you add cold water, bring it to a boil, cover it and let it simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
In the pilaf method (and also the risotto method), we first sauté some finely minced onion in butter or oil, then add the uncooked rice and sauté it until it until it gives off a faint nutty aroma. Then we add hot stock, cover and transfer to the oven where it cooks until the liquid is absorbed.
(With risotto, after sautéeing the onion and rice, hot stock is stirred into the rice a ladleful at a time, rather than adding it all at once.)
Cooking rice via the pilaf method gives you a firmer grain and develops additional flavor through the sautéeing. It also helps keep the grains separate and generally results in rice that's less sticky than the regular kind.
When making this rice pilaf recipe, you'll want to make sure to use a saucepan that's safe for the stovetop and the oven — including the lid. I once had a pot that was perfect for making pilaf because it was glass, which meant I could see whether there was any liquid still in it without taking off the lid and releasing all the steam. I'm pretty sure it was Visions by Corningware, as a matter of fact. Alas, the pot and I have since parted ways, but if you have something like that, it'll be perfect.
This basic pilaf recipe features minced onion and celery, but you could also include slivered almonds, peas, dried currants, and so on. I'd sauté the slivered almonds along with the rice, but if I were adding peas or dried currants, I'd add those at the same time I added the liquid. Frozen peas would work great.
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 1½ cups chicken stock or broth
- 2 Tbsp onion, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp celery, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp butter
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, then add the butter. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the stock or broth to a boil. It's a good idea to check the seasoning of the cooking liquid and make any necessary adjustments before it gets too hot to taste.
- When the butter gets foamy, add the diced onion and celery and sauté until the onion is slightly translucent, about 2–3 minutes.
- Add the uncooked rice and sauté, stirring constantly, for about a minute, or until the rice is fully coated with the melted butter.
- Add the hot stock or broth, bring the pot back to a boil, then cover and place the entire pot in the oven.
- Cook the rice pilaf in the oven for 18 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. If after 18 minutes there's still liquid in the pot or the rice is still too moist, re-cover and return the pot to the oven for another 2–4 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the oven and gently fluff the rice pilaf with a wooden fork. Then place a paper towel across the top of the pot, replace the lid and let the rice pilaf stand for 10 minutes.