Rice Pilaf, Plain and Fancy

When you add fat, you add flavor: Toast the kernels first and everything changes.
TIME 45 to 60 minutes
MAKES 4 servings
1½ cups long-grain white rice, preferably basmati
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2¼ to 2½ cups water or chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1 Rinse the rice in a strainer and let it drain. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

2 Add the rice and turn the heat down to medium. Stir frequently until the rice is glossy, completely coated with oil, and starting to turn golden, another 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add 2¼ cups water all at once. Stir once or twice just to incorporate the liquid and bring the mixture to a boil. Then adjust the heat so it bubbles gently; cover the pan.

3 Cook the rice until it is almost dry and craters appear on the surface, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste to make sure it’s almost fully tender; if the liquid is absorbed but the rice is still too firm, add another ¼ cup water, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes, then taste again. Turn the heat as low as possible and let rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

4 Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons oil if you want to add even more richness and fluff the pilaf with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning, fluff again, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

  • Brown Rice Pilaf Use brown basmati rice instead of white and increase the liquid to 2½ cups in Step 2. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes in Step 3 instead of 15 to 20. You might need to add even more water, so check it after about 20 minutes.
  • Garlicky Rice Pilaf Use 1 or 2 tablespoons minced garlic instead of the onion; it will soften in 1 or 2 minutes, so watch it. (Or try 2 large chopped shallots, 1 chopped leek, or 4 chopped scallions—all with slightly different results.)
  • Rice Pilaf with Vegetables Along with the onion, add 1 chopped celery stalk; 1 cored, seeded, and chopped bell pepper; or 1 chopped carrot.
  • Herbed Rice Pilaf Substitute other mild fresh herbs—like mint, basil, chervil, or dill—for the parsley.
  • Jazzed-Up Rice Pilaf When you fluff the rice, add other ingredients along with the parsley: up to 1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon or sausage, ½ cup flaked smoked salmon, ½ cup chopped nuts, ½ cup chopped dried fruit, or 1 tablespoon lemon, orange, or lime zest.

  • I go with basmati rice for pilaf because it’s incredibly delicious and the grains stay separate long after cooking, but any rice will work. Pilaf made with shortgrain rice is pleasantly sticky and perfect with stir fries and other Asian-style dishes.
  • Letting pilaf rest after cooking allows it to dry out and develop a light and airy texture. On a gas stove, set it over the absolute lowest possible heat. If you have an electric stove, turn the heat off and let the pan sit on the burner as it cools.
  • Pilaf can be made ahead and reheated successfully; sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons water first, cover, and reheat gently on the stove or in the oven.

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