How To Cook Pilau Rice Indian Style

Fact Checked By:Audrey Betsy

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Pilau rice, an aromatic gem in the crown of Indian cuisine, has been a centerpiece in celebratory feasts and everyday meals alike. While its roots can be traced back to ancient times, its popularity has transcended borders, making it a beloved dish globally. Its delicate balance of spices, combined with fluffy, long-grained rice, promises a delightful culinary experience. But how does one achieve the perfect pilau rice, characterized by its individual grains, tantalizing aroma, and rich flavors? In this article, we’ll demystify the art of cooking pilau rice, Indian-style, guiding you step-by-step to ensure you bring a touch of India’s rich culinary tradition to your dining table.

How To Cook Pilau Rice Indian Style

Pilau (or pulao) is a flavorful rice dish that is popular in many parts of India. The recipe can vary depending on the region and personal preferences, but here is a basic version of Indian-style pilau rice:


  • 2 cups of Basmati rice
  • 4 cups of water or broth
  • 2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced or grated
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 4-6 cloves
  • 1-2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: Raisins, cashews, and chopped vegetables of your choice (like carrots, peas, bell peppers, etc.)


  • Rinse the Rice: Wash the basmati rice thoroughly under cold water until the water runs clear. This helps remove excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming sticky. Soak the rice in water for about 30 minutes.
  • Prepare the Spices and Aromatics: While the rice is soaking, slice the onions, mince the garlic and ginger, and gather the whole spices.
  • Cooking the Aromatics: In a large pan or pot, heat the ghee or oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Then add the bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and peppercorns. Sauté for a minute or until aromatic.
  • Onions, Garlic, and Ginger: Add the sliced onions to the pot and sauté until they turn golden brown. This might take 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another 2 minutes.
  • Add Rice: Drain the soaked rice and add it to the pot. Gently stir to coat the rice with the ghee or oil and mix with the aromatics. Cook for 2 minutes, ensuring the grains do not stick to the bottom.
  • Liquid and Cooking: Pour in the water or broth. Add salt to taste. Bring it to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through and all the water is absorbed. Avoid stirring frequently as it can break the rice grains.
  • Optional Add-ins: If using vegetables, you can add them right after the onions are sautéed. If using raisins and cashews, you can fry them in ghee separately until golden and mix them in once the rice is cooked.
  • Fluff and Serve: Once the rice is done, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice. Serve hot with your favorite curry, raita, or salad.

Remember, pilau rice can be modified and enhanced in various ways. Some people add saffron, tomatoes, or other spices. The recipe can be adapted to personal taste and regional variations.


Here are some tips to help you make the perfect Indian-style pilau rice:

  • Choose the Right Rice: For authentic pilau, use long-grain Basmati rice. It’s aromatic and remains separate when cooked, unlike some other rice varieties which can become sticky.
  • Rinse Well: Always rinse the rice several times until the water runs clear. This removes excess starch and prevents stickiness.
  • Soak the Rice: Before cooking, soak the rice in water for about 20-30 minutes. This helps in reducing the cooking time and ensures the grains become elongated and remain separate after cooking.
  • Use Ghee: While oil can be used, ghee (clarified butter) lends a richer flavor to the pilau.
  • Golden Onions: Taking time to properly brown the onions is crucial. They should be golden brown but not burnt. This gives the pilau its characteristic flavor.
  • Avoid Over-stirring: While it’s important to mix the ingredients well, refrain from stirring the rice too much once it starts cooking, as the grains can break.
  • Use the Right Water Ratio: Typically, for pilau, the rice-to-water ratio is 1:2. However, this can slightly vary depending on the type and age of the rice.
  • Cook on Low Heat: Once the water reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the rice simmer. This ensures even cooking and prevents the rice from burning at the bottom.
  • Use a Heavy-bottomed Pan: A thick-bottomed pot or pan ensures even heat distribution, minimizing the chances of the rice sticking or burning.
  • Let it Rest: After turning off the heat, let the pilau sit for 5-10 minutes before fluffing with a fork. This allows the residual steam to continue cooking the rice, ensuring it’s fully done.
  • Fluff with a Fork: Instead of a spoon, use a fork to fluff the rice. This will help keep the grains separate and prevent them from breaking.
  • Fresh Spices: Whenever possible, use whole spices and toast them briefly in the ghee or oil to release their aroma. Freshly ground or whole spices impart a better flavor than older, pre-ground ones.
  • Customize: Pilau can be adapted based on personal tastes. You can add vegetables, paneer, or even meat to make it a one-pot meal. You can also add dried fruits like raisins or nuts like cashews for additional flavor and texture.
  • Serve with Complements: Pilau pairs well with many dishes. Consider serving it with a side of raita (yogurt with cucumber or onion) to complement the flavors.

With these tips and a bit of practice, you can master the art of making pilau rice and enjoy this delightful dish from Indian cuisine.

Storage Instructions

Storing pilau rice properly is crucial to ensure both safety and flavor preservation. Here are the steps and considerations:

  • Cool Quickly: After cooking pilau rice, spread it out on a large plate or shallow container to cool it down to room temperature as quickly as possible. This reduces the risk of bacterial growth.
  • Airtight Containers: Once cooled, transfer the rice to airtight containers. This prevents moisture and other contaminants from entering and also helps maintain the flavor of the rice.
  • Refrigeration: Place the airtight containers in the refrigerator if you plan to consume the pilau within 3-4 days.
  • Freezing: If you wish to store the pilau rice for a more extended period, like a month or more, consider freezing it. Freeze in portion-sized amounts for easy reheating. Use freezer bags or airtight containers suitable for freezing.
  • Label and Date: Always label and date your stored food. This helps you keep track of its freshness and ensures you consume older batches first.
  • Reheating: When you’re ready to eat the stored pilau rice:
  • Microwave: Transfer the rice to a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle a little water over the rice to ensure it doesn’t dry out during reheating. Cover it and microwave on high, stirring once or twice, until it’s hot throughout.
  • Stovetop: You can also reheat pilau rice in a pot over low heat. Again, sprinkle a bit of water, cover the pot, and stir occasionally to ensure even heating.
  • One-time Reheat: Only reheat the amount of pilau rice you plan to consume. Avoid reheating the same batch multiple times, as it increases the risk of foodborne illness and deteriorates the rice’s texture.
  • Check Before Eating: Before consuming stored pilau rice, check for any off smells or mold. If anything seems amiss, it’s safer to discard the rice.

By following these storage and reheating instructions, you can enjoy your pilau rice safely and with preserved flavors over several days or even weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Q: What kind of rice should I use for pilau?

A: Basmati rice is the best choice for pilau due to its long grains and aromatic flavor. It remains separate when cooked, which is ideal for pilau.

Q: Can I use vegetable oil instead of ghee?

A: Yes, you can use vegetable oil or even butter. However, ghee provides an authentic flavor that’s characteristic of many Indian dishes.

Q: How do I ensure the rice doesn’t turn out sticky?

A: Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear to remove excess starch. Soak it for about 20-30 minutes before cooking, and use the correct water-to-rice ratio. Also, avoid over-stirring during cooking.

Q: Can I add vegetables or meat to the pilau?

A: Absolutely! Vegetables like peas, carrots, and bell peppers or meats like chicken or lamb can be added. If adding, ensure they are cooked thoroughly before mixing with the rice.

Q: How much water should I use for 1 cup of rice?

A: Typically, for pilau, the ratio is 1:2, so for 1 cup of rice, you’d use 2 cups of water. However, this can vary slightly depending on the rice’s type and age.

Q: Why is my pilau not flavorful enough?

A: Ensure you’re using fresh spices. Toasting the spices in ghee or oil before adding the rice can also help in releasing more flavor. Adjusting salt can also make a significant difference.

Q: Can I cook pilau rice in a rice cooker or instant pot?

A: Yes. The process remains largely the same, but cooking times and water ratios might differ based on the appliance. If using a rice cooker, use the white rice setting. For an Instant Pot, use the “Rice” mode or manually set it to 5-7 minutes on “Low Pressure.”

Q: What can I serve with pilau rice?

A: Pilau rice pairs well with various Indian dishes like curries, dal (lentil soups), kebabs, and raitas (yogurt-based side dishes).

Q: The bottom of my pilau is burnt. What went wrong?

A: This could be due to very high heat during the simmering process or using a thin-bottomed pan. Always use a heavy-bottomed pot and ensure that the heat is low after bringing the rice to an initial boil.

Q: Can I freeze pilau rice?

A: Yes, pilau rice can be frozen. Once it’s cooled down, place it in portion-sized freezer bags or containers. It can be stored frozen for up to a month or more. Ensure it’s reheated thoroughly before consuming.

Q: What are the basic ingredients needed for cooking Pilau rice?

A: The basic ingredients for Indian-style Pilau rice include long-grain basmati rice, cooking oil or ghee, aromatics like onions and garlic, whole spices (such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon), and water or broth for cooking.

Q: How do I prepare the rice before cooking?

A: Rinse the rice thoroughly under cold water until the water runs clear. This helps remove excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming too sticky when cooked. Soak the rice in water for about 30 minutes to an hour. Drain the soaked rice before using.

Q: What’s the typical rice-to-water ratio for cooking Pilau rice?

A: The standard rice-to-water ratio is usually 1:2, which means for every cup of rice, you’ll need 2 cups of water. However, this can vary slightly based on the type of rice and personal preferences.

Q: How do I sauté the aromatics and spices?

A: Heat oil or ghee in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add whole spices like cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. Sauté them until they release their aroma. Then, add finely chopped onions and sauté until they turn golden brown. You can also add minced garlic and ginger for extra flavor.

Q: When do I add the rice to the pot?

A: After sautéing the aromatics and spices, add the soaked and drained rice to the pot. Gently stir the rice to coat it with the flavors and allow it to slightly toast.

Q: What’s the next step after adding the rice?

A: Pour in the measured water or broth. Add salt to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let the rice simmer until it’s cooked and the liquid is absorbed. This usually takes about 15-20 minutes.

Q: Can I add vegetables or protein to the Pilau rice?

A: Absolutely! You can add vegetables like peas, carrots, or bell peppers, and protein sources like cooked chicken, lamb, or shrimp. Add these ingredients when the rice is almost done cooking, and let them steam alongside the rice for a few minutes.

Q: How do I achieve the distinct grains in Pilau rice?

A: To get separate, fluffy grains, avoid stirring the rice too much while it’s cooking. Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and let it rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then, gently fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains.

Q: Can I garnish the Pilau rice before serving?

A: Absolutely! You can garnish Pilau rice with fried onions, toasted nuts (like almonds or cashews), and fresh chopped cilantro or mint leaves. This adds both flavor and visual appeal.

Q: What’s a simple Pilau rice recipe to get started?

A: Here’s a basic recipe:

·         Rinse and soak 1 cup of basmati rice for 30 minutes, then drain.
·         In a pot, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add 3-4 cloves, 2-3 green cardamom pods, and a small cinnamon stick.
·         Sauté until fragrant, then add 1 finely chopped onion. Sauté until golden.
·         Add the drained rice and sauté for 2 minutes.
·         Pour in 2 cups of water, add salt to taste, and bring to a boil.
·         Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
·         Turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork.
·         Garnish with fried onions, toasted nuts, and chopped cilantro.


In the diverse tapestry of Indian cuisine, pilau rice stands out as a testament to the nation’s ability to transform simple ingredients into culinary masterpieces. The journey of crafting the perfect pilau is not just about following a recipe; it’s a dance of flavors and aromas that encapsulates centuries of tradition. By paying heed to the nuances of the ingredients and the techniques employed, even a novice can recreate this iconic dish with authenticity. As you savor each fragrant bite, you’re not just enjoying a meal, but partaking in a rich cultural experience that celebrates the timeless allure of Indian gastronomy. Whether served as a standalone dish or paired with sumptuous gravies, pilau rice, with its symphony of spices, remains a testament to India’s enduring culinary legacy.

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Audrey Betsy

Audrey Betsy is a celebrated food writer, cookbook author, and waffle aficionado. Her passion for cooking and baking, coupled with her skill for weaving words, has earned her a loyal following of food lovers and home cooks around the world. A self-taught culinary whiz, Audrey first discovered her love for waffles during her childhood visits to her grandmother's kitchen. She soon found herself enchanted by the sheer versatility of waffles and began experimenting with a variety of ingredients and flavors, from the classic buttermilk waffles to unique, fusion-inspired creations. Audrey's accessible writing style, detailed recipe instructions, and mouthwatering photography quickly gained attention. Her blog now reaches millions of readers monthly, inspiring home cooks to venture beyond the traditional waffle recipe and discover a world of culinary creativity. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via the contact page.

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