How to Make Rice Pilaf Fluffy, Fragrant, and Perfect Every Time
The ingredients might change, but the fundamentals of how to make rice pilaf stay the same. Here’s how to nail one of our favorite sides every single time.
Rice pilaf can seem sad. Plain. Boring. But if you know how to make rice pilaf, yours will be quite the opposite. You just need to know the process and the flavor combos to pull it off. Turmeric or cinnamon? Nuts or raisins? The exact ingredients and embellishments may change, but the basics of fluffy, fragrant pilaf are simple and consistent. Here’s how to make rice pilaf, perfectly, every time.
1. Sauté the Aromatics
Why is pilaf so much more flavorful than ordinary steamed rice? It all starts with aromatics—onion, garlic, fennel, carrot, or shallot. In a medium saucepan, begin by cooking about ¾ cup aromatics (always onion, plus any of the others if you’ve got ’em) in olive oil or unsalted butter over medium-high heat until soft and onion is translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Time for the Rice
Once the base is ready, add 1 cup long-grain white rice, such as jasmine or basmati. Cook, stirring, until the grains are well-coated and some look translucent and the whole mixture smells toasty. (This takes about 3 minutes.) Toasting the grains until they’re coated in oil and start to look translucent helps them separate so they won’t clump. It adds flavor, too. Which we like (and you probably do too).
3. Boost Flavor with Spice or Broth
Another great divide between plain rice and pilaf? The cooking liquid. There are two ways to add flavor here. You can add flavor by cooking your rice in some kind of meat or seafood broth, which is how pilaf is traditionally executed. In our curried rice pilaf recipe, we add curry powder and water, but you could also customize your pilaf with ground spices like coriander, cumin, or cinnamon. Don’t go crazy though. The goal is to perfume the rice, not overpower it. The same approach should be applied for cologne or perfume. No one wants to smell you from a mile away.
4. Cook That Rice
Regardless of your flavoring method, bring it to a boil, and reduce it to a bare simmer. Cover the rice and cook until the liquid has been absorbed (about 12–15 minutes). That’s enough time to sign up for Geico insurance. Allegedly.
5. Let It Rest
Remove your pot from heat and fluff the rice with a fork. Then cover the pot with a clean dish towel and seal with the lid for 5 minutes. The towel absorbs steam, so the rice stays fluffy and delicious.
6. Finish with Flair
You’re not quite done yet! Fold in 2 Tbsp. fresh tender herbs (think cilantro, parsley, mint, and/or chives) for brightness and a handful of chopped toasted nuts (maybe almonds, pecans, or pistachios) for crunch. In a sweet mood? Throw in a few plump currants or raisins, if you’d like. This is your pilaf. Own it.
3 Pilaf Combos We Love
- Fennel (plus fronds) + turmeric + almonds + cilantro (pictured above)
- Carrot + cumin + parsley + pecans
- Garlic + cinnamon + mint + pistachios