Zanizbar Spice Pilau Rice



Swap plain white rice as a side dish to curry with pilau for a change - with its beautiful colour and buttery richness, pilau is much more fun.

Cooking rice to perfection is certainly a bit of an art. There is a lot of advice out there on how to avoid gloopy, over-cooked grains, though I cannot say I have experimented with a wide variety of methods as, my fear of over-cooked rice being quite extreme, I have stuck for years with a method that works for me. Unfortunately, this method isn't particularly scientific, so I hope that if you try it you also experience success. Read on for details, and good luck!



(Serves 4, very generously, as a side)

  • 400g basmati rice
  • 50g butter
  • 1 brown onion - finely chopped
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt

So, first thing to do for my not-exactly-fool-proof-but-has-always-worked-for-me rice plan, is to thoroughly rinse the rice. To do this, place the rice in a saucepan or bowl, and then fill with water. Next, drain the rice through a colander, and then return the rice to the saucepan, re-fill with water and drain again. Do this until the water that you drain is almost clear, free from the majority of the starch that will make the first few passes very milky. When you've reached this stage, re-fill the rice saucepan with water and set aside to soak for between 20-30 minutes. After this time, drain the rice one again.

In another saucepan (the one you intend on cooking the rice in), fry the onions over a medium heat in 30g of the butter. When the onions are soft and beginning to colour, add the turmeric, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Stir everything together and cook for a further 2 minutes - the turmeric should colour everything a lovely yellow. Next, add the drained rice and stir to combine this with the onion and spices.

Now for the not-so-scientific bit - place your index finger in the saucepan (near, if not exactly on the base) and stand it upright in the rice, (given you've just added the rice, the temperature won't be so high as to make this dangerous). Pour in tap water until this reaches the base (i.e. the furthest part) of the second knuckle of your index finger. (I know that this shouldn't work, because people have different sized fingers etc, but I first heard of this method many years ago in Hong Kong (a place of consistently perfect rice), and as I said earlier, good results have ensured that I've never strayed). If you have less faith in index finger rice magic than me, then I hear that adding twice the volume of water to rice also works wonderfully.

Now, cover the pan with a very tight fitting lid, and place over a medium heat until the water begins to boil. Without lifting the lid from the pan, reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook for 20 minutes. After this time has elapsed, you can do a super-quick lid-lift to check that all the water has been absorbed. Look for small holes in the rice - this in an indicator that all has gone according to plan. Pop the lid back on, and set aside for another 5 minutes to steam and become fluffy.

When this time has elapsed, lift the lid, and fluff the rice with a fork. It should be dry and lovely (and if it's not, then perhaps you fingers are particularly out-sized). Remove the cloves from the rice, and maybe the cardamom pods too before serving if you are feeling particularly generous. The cinnamon and bay leaves are sufficiently large not to be a choking hazard!