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Pilaf, pulao, plov, pulaw: rice is a versatile ingredient that can assume the character of many of the world’s nationalities, from Iraq and India to Africa and Asia. It’s a sort of blank slate, a tabula rasa, that can take on many different flavours and aromas.
The grain’s basic construction allows it to be used in different cooking applications and with different techniques. One of the best results comes about when you sauté rice to a light brown colour which deepens its flavour giving it a hearty and satisfying nuttiness.
Making a pilaf has two important basic steps: lightly browning the rice in butter and then cooking it in a vegetable or chicken stock (rather than water). This absorption method is easy and at the same time achieves a couple of culinary objectives. First, sautéeing the rice in the fat toasts the individual grains and adds a lot of flavour; second, in doing so, it prevents the rice from clumping together.
A pilaf can be seasoned notably with saffron, and it usually has a few vegetables tossed in, especially something like peas. It often is finished or garnished with ingredients like pistachios and raisins.
In the photo above, the rice I used for the pilaf to accompany this piece of Arctic char was a combination of grains like brown rice and wild rice (which is really a grass) and chicken stock was used. More importantly, a wet kitchen towel was placed over the top of the cooking pot before the lid was secured on the pot. The towel prevents condensation from accumulating on the lid and dripping back down into the cooking rice.
The pilaf mixture was brought to a boil on the stove top, covered, and then baked in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.[ Pulao image/Wikimedia Commons ]