Food speaks. It isn't always just about how it tastes, but also about the nostalgia it brings, and the memories it creates. A friend once spoke with great passion about how the food she cooks is the best way she knows how to communicate her culture to her kids, to instil a love for where she comes from, who she is, and who they are. Her words have stuck with me, especially since like her I too am raising Canadian kids who I hope will love their Pakistani heritage as much as their Canadian identity. That is where this kid friendly chicken pulao comes in.
I once posted on Instagram that my culinary autobiography would have to be called "The Pulao Diaries". For someone who has next to no memory of eating chicken pulao as a child I now find myself making it at least every other week, sometimes more. It is a dish my children love, a dish that captures so many Pakistani flavors without setting tongues on fire. I suspect when my kids look back on their childhoods their memories will be scented with caramelized onions and the sound of the exhaust fan on high 😉
Pulao purists will recognize that this isn't an 'authentic' pulao in the sense that it is not a yakhni pulao (one made by creating a broth). While I adore those the reality is that I don't usually have the time to make them.
This is a one pot meal that requires minimal chopping (2 onions) and minimal prep work if you buy your chicken cut into pieces. Also while it has considerable flavour thanks to the caramelized onions and the garlic and ginger the actual spice level is low enough for kids. You can increase it - and the whole spices - to suit your taste, but this is how I make it for my little ones. When I am low on onions I will use one and it is still yummy, if not quite so rich. A palate cleansing raita is a great accompaniment as is a garlicky chutney (to be posted soon).
Rice can be finicky to cook - timing it so you get long grained beauties can be difficult, which is why it is important to find a brand of rice you like and stick with it to develop a good sense of how it cooks. For instance I know that Falak requires minimal soaking to cook perfectly and for a dish like this I am not likely to do the traditional 30-minute soak. Other brands of rice are sturdier and would do well with a pre cooking soak. If your brand of rice cooks especially quickly then feel free to reduce the water you use here as well. For the chicken I usually have bone in breast pieces that the butcher cuts into 2 inch pieces and they work well. Leg pieces would naturally have both more flavour and more moisture. Also - and this is KEY - do not do not do not use the jarred garlic and ginger pastes UNLESS you happen to have found one that doesn't have the overarching smell and taste of vinegar. If you don't feel like whizzing up purees then grate some ginger and crush the garlic (about 6 cloves) in a garlic press. Also, and this is a really great tip that a friend recently gave me - if your water evaporates too quickly then wet a clean tea towel, wring it out and put it between the pot and the lid. Conversely if the rice is too wet place a dry clean tea towel between the pot and lid to soak up the moisture.
Chicken Pulao / Chicken Pilaf
- 2.5 cups rice
- 1 pound chicken little over is fine cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4-5 cloves/ laung
- 6-8 whole black peppers
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 2 onions thinly sliced
- 1 ¼ tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp ground garlic
- 1 tsp salt + 1.25 tsp
- ½ tsp coriander powder
- ½ to 1 ½ tsp cayenne/red chilli powder
- Wash your rice, soak it in cold water and set it aside.
- Heat oil in a large pot (preferably non stick) and add your whole spices - the cloves, black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon. Fry for two minutes till fragrant.
- In go the onions - these will take 6-10 minutes to caramelize. You want a golden to dark brown colour - if you see it start to turn darker then pull it off the heat and add a splash of cold water.
- Then add your ginger and garlic, stir fry for two minutes till fragrant
- Add salt, coriander powder and red chilli powder. Cook for another 2 minutes.
- Then add the chicken and stir fry it well till all of it turns white. At this point I like to cook the chicken on medium low heat for about 6-10 minutes depending on the size of my chicken pieces. The intent isn't to fully cook them, but to give the chicken a head start.
- Then add the rice, 3 ¼ cup water and 1 ¼ tsp salt. Stir to combine and bring it to a boil.
- Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes - essentially until the water is mostly absorbed.
- Cook on low heat for another 10 minutes then check for doneness.