The Art of Crafting Lamb Pilau: How To Make Lamb Pilau Rice Pakistani

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The soul of Pakistan’s culinary heritage is steeped in flavors, aromas, and traditions that have been passed down through generations. Among its rich tapestry of dishes, Lamb Pilau stands as a testament to the nation’s expertise in blending simplicity with sophistication. At first glance, it might seem like a humble dish of meat and rice, but delve deeper, and you discover a symphony of spices and techniques that elevate it to a gourmet experience. Lamb Pilau is not just a meal; it’s a journey that takes you through the bustling streets of Lahore, the fragrant bazaars of Karachi, and the picturesque valleys of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In this guide, we aim to unravel the secrets of crafting the perfect Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau, from choosing the right cuts of meat to mastering the ‘dum’ (steam) technique. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a culinary novice, by the end of this journey, you’ll be well-equipped to recreate this iconic dish with the authenticity and flair it truly deserves.

How To Make Lamb Pilau Rice Pakistani

Lamb Pilau (often spelled Pulao in Pakistan) is a delicious, aromatic dish made with succulent pieces of lamb cooked with rice and an ensemble of spices. Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau tends to be more on the subtle and fragrant side, with a focus on the meat’s flavor harmonizing with the rice. Here’s a basic recipe for Lamb Pilau, Pakistani-style:


  • Lamb: 500g, bone-in pieces preferably
  • Basmati Rice: 2 cups
  • Onions: 2 large, thinly sliced
  • Tomatoes: 2-3, finely chopped
  • Ginger-Garlic Paste: 2 tbsp
  • Green Chilies: 2-3, slit
  • Yogurt: ½ cup, whisked
  • Whole Spices:
  • Bay leaves: 2
  • Cinnamon stick: 1-inch piece
  • Black cardamom: 2
  • Green cardamom: 4-5
  • Cloves: 5-6
  • Black peppercorns: 6-8
  • Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
  • Red Chili Powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder: ½ tsp
  • Salt: To taste
  • Fresh Coriander: A handful, chopped
  • Mint: A handful, chopped
  • Ghee or Cooking Oil: ½ cup
  • Water or Broth:
  • 4 cups (You can use lamb or chicken broth for added flavor)


  • Prepare the Rice: Wash the Basmati rice thoroughly until water runs clear. Soak it for about 30 minutes.
  • Cooking the Lamb: In a large, thick-bottomed pot, heat ghee or oil. Add the whole spices and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Add the sliced onions and fry them until they turn golden brown.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté until the raw smell disappears.
  • Introduce the lamb pieces to the pot and brown them on all sides.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, green chilies, red chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the oil starts separating.
  • Stir in the whisked yogurt and combine well. Cook the lamb until it’s nearly done – it will cook further with the rice.
  • Rice and Final Cooking: Pour in the water or broth. Bring it to a boil. Drain the soaked rice and add it to the pot.
  • When the water is almost fully absorbed but there’s still a bit of moisture on the top, reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Scatter the fresh coriander and mint over the rice.
  • Seal the pot with a tight-fitting lid. You can place a tava (griddle) or a flat pan under the pot and let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes. This ‘dum’ process allows the flavors to meld.
  • Serve: Once done, fluff the rice gently with a fork. Serve your Lamb Pilau with raita, salad, and pickles.

The beauty of pilau lies in its adaptability. You can adjust spices according to your preference, and even add dried fruits or fried onions on top for an added layer of flavor.


Here are some tips to help you perfect your Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau:

  • Choose Quality Meat: Opt for fresh, bone-in lamb pieces. The bones add more flavor to the rice. If possible, get cuts from the leg or shoulder, as they tend to be more flavorful.
  • Soak the Rice: Soaking the Basmati rice for about 30 minutes prior to cooking ensures elongated, separate grains in the finished pilau.
  • Use Ghee: While oil is acceptable, ghee adds a richer, more authentic flavor. If you’re health-conscious, you can use a mixture of oil and ghee.
  • Golden Onions: The onions should be fried to a deep golden brown but not burnt. This caramelization adds sweetness and a distinct flavor to the pilau.
  • Avoid Over-stirring: Be gentle when mixing or stirring to avoid breaking the rice grains.
  • Yogurt: Always use plain, unsweetened yogurt. Whisk it well before adding to avoid curdling. Yogurt helps tenderize the meat and gives the pilau a creamy texture.
  • Layering: If you want a layered effect, with some white rice on top and the meaty, spiced rice below, remove some white rice when it’s half-cooked, add the lamb mixture, and then add the partially cooked rice back on top before sealing the pot.
  • Dum (Steam) Cooking: For the final cooking, sealing the pot is essential. If you don’t have a tight-fitting lid, you can use a clean kitchen cloth tied over the top, placing the lid over it. This ensures minimal steam escapes, helping to meld flavors and cook the rice perfectly.
  • Use a Heavy Bottomed Pan: This ensures even cooking and reduces the risk of the rice or meat burning at the bottom.
  • Water-to-Rice Ratio: Depending on the age and quality of your rice, this ratio may need slight adjustments. If you’re unsure, it’s better to have a tad more water as you can always cook off excess moisture by increasing the heat for a short while.
  • Infuse Additional Aromas: Some people add a few drops of Kewra (screwpine) or rose water just before sealing the pot for dum. This gives the pilau an exotic fragrance.
  • Garnishing: For added texture and flavor, garnish with fried onions, raisins, or cashews.
  • Rest Before Serving: After cooking, let the pilau rest for about 10 minutes. This allows the flavors to settle and makes it easier to fluff the rice without breaking the grains.
  • Safety First: Lamb should be cooked thoroughly. Consuming undercooked lamb can be a health risk.

With these tips in mind, patience, and practice, you’ll soon master the art of making a delicious Lamb Pilau that captures the essence of Pakistani cuisine.

Storage Instructions

Storing Lamb Pilau correctly is essential to maintain its taste, texture, and, most importantly, to ensure it remains safe for consumption. Here are storage instructions for Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau:

  • Cooling: After cooking the Lamb Pilau, allow it to come to room temperature. It’s crucial not to leave it out for extended periods (more than 2 hours) as the combination of rice and meat can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Portioning: If you have a significant amount, it’s a good idea to store it in meal-sized portions. This way, you only reheat the amount you need at any given time, reducing the number of times the entire batch gets reheated.
  • Airtight Containers: Transfer the cooled Lamb Pilau into airtight containers. This helps in preserving the flavor and prevents external contaminants from getting in.
  • Refrigeration: If you intend to consume the pilau within 3-4 days, it’s best to refrigerate it. Always reheat it thoroughly before consumption.
  • Freezing: Lamb Pilau can be frozen if you need to store it for longer durations, like a month or so. Use freezer-safe bags or containers. Before freezing, ensure it’s cooled completely. When you decide to eat it, it’s best to thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat.
  • Reheating: When you’re ready to eat:
  • Microwave: Use a microwave-safe dish, sprinkle some water on the pilau to prevent it from drying out, and heat it thoroughly.
  • Stove: You can also reheat it in a pot over low heat. Add a little water to prevent drying and ensure even heating.
  • Avoid Multiple Reheats: Don’t reheat the pilau multiple times. This not only impacts its flavor and texture but also increases the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  • Check Before Eating: Even with the best storage practices, always check the pilau before consuming. Any off-odors, mold, or other visual changes indicate spoilage, and it’s best to discard the pilau.

By following these storage and reheating instructions, you can safely enjoy your Lamb Pilau over several days without compromising its quality or safety.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Here are some common questions and answers related to making Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau Rice:

Q: What is Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Lamb Pilau Rice, commonly known as “Lamb Pulao” in Pakistan, is a flavorful and aromatic rice dish where tender pieces of lamb are cooked together with fragrant spices and basmati rice. It’s a traditional Pakistani dish that’s enjoyed on special occasions and gatherings.

Q: What are the essential ingredients for making Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: The key ingredients include lamb (preferably bone-in pieces for richer flavor), basmati rice, aromatic spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves, sliced onions, ginger, garlic, yogurt for marination, ghee or oil for cooking, and water or broth for cooking the rice.

Q: How do I marinate the lamb for Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: To marinate the lamb, mix yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, some spices (such as cumin, coriander, red chili powder), and a bit of salt. Coat the lamb pieces with this mixture and let it marinate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Q: What’s the process for cooking Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Here’s a basic outline of the process:

Sauté whole spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves) in ghee or oil until fragrant.

Add sliced onions and sauté until golden brown.

Add marinated lamb and cook until it’s browned and cooked through.

Add soaked and drained basmati rice. Sauté for a few minutes to coat the rice with flavors.

Pour in water or broth, add salt, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, cover, and let the rice simmer until cooked and the liquid is absorbed.

Allow the dish to rest for a few minutes before fluffing the rice and serving.

Q: Can I add vegetables to the Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Yes, you can add vegetables like carrots, peas, or potatoes to the dish. Add them along with the rice during the cooking process, so they cook together with the lamb and rice.

Q: How do I achieve the perfect balance of flavors in Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Balancing flavors in Lamb Pilau Rice is crucial. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. You can enhance the taste by adding a pinch of saffron soaked in warm milk, or garnish with fried onions, fresh cilantro, and mint leaves.

Q: Can you provide a simple recipe for Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Certainly, here’s a basic recipe:

Marinate lamb pieces in yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, cumin, coriander, red chili powder, and salt. Let it marinate for a few hours.

In a large pot, sauté cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves in ghee until fragrant.

Add sliced onions and cook until golden brown.

Add the marinated lamb and cook until browned and tender.

Add soaked basmati rice and sauté for a few minutes.

Pour in water or broth, add salt, and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat, cover the pot, and let it simmer until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed.

Let it rest for a few minutes, then fluff the rice and serve, garnished with fried onions, cilantro, and mint.

Q: Can I use a pressure cooker to make Lamb Pilau Rice?

A: Yes, you can use a pressure cooker to expedite the cooking process. After sautéing and adding all the ingredients, cover the pressure cooker with its lid and cook for a few whistles, depending on your pressure cooker’s settings and the size of the lamb pieces. Remember to adjust the liquid accordingly.

Q: What distinguishes Pakistani Lamb Pilau from other variations?

A: Pakistani Lamb Pilau tends to have a more subtle flavor profile with less emphasis on heavy spices and more focus on the inherent flavors of lamb, rice, and a select few aromatic spices. The dish is a beautiful blend of flavors rather than a starkly spiced dish.

Q: What’s the importance of using bone-in lamb pieces?

A: Bone-in pieces impart a deeper flavor to the broth, making the pilau more savory and aromatic. The marrow in the bones enriches the dish and gives it a full-bodied taste.

Q: I’ve noticed some recipes use stock while others use water. Which is better?

A: While water is traditionally used, substituting with lamb or chicken stock can intensify the flavor profile of the pilau. If you have stock on hand, it’s a worthy addition.

Q: Why is the ‘dum’ (steam) process essential, and can I skip it?

A: The ‘dum’ process ensures that the flavors meld and the rice cooks to perfection in its own steam. While you can cook pilau without it, you’d miss out on the depth of flavor and texture that dum cooking provides.

Q: Can I use other types of rice besides Basmati?

A: While Basmati is preferred for its long grains and aroma, you can use other long-grain varieties. However, the texture and fragrance will differ slightly.

Q: How do I ensure my rice grains remain separate and don’t become mushy?

A: Soaking the rice, using the correct water-to-rice ratio, and ensuring you don’t over-stir during cooking are key. Also, using aged Basmati rice can help in achieving separate grains.

Q: Can I add other spices or ingredients to my pilau?

A: Absolutely! While the traditional recipe has its own charm, pilau is versatile. You can add dried fruits like raisins or apricots, or even garnish with fried nuts. Adjusting spices to your liking is also an option, but remember, Pakistani pilau values subtlety.

Q: How do I balance the salt, especially when using stock?

A: If you’re using store-bought stock, it can be salty. Always taste your cooking liquid before adding the rice and adjust the seasoning. Remember, it’s easier to add salt later than to fix an overly salty pilau.

Q: Is there a vegetarian version?

A: Yes, you can make a vegetable pilau using the same base of spices and rice, replacing lamb with an assortment of vegetables like peas, carrots, potatoes, and cauliflower.

Q: What’s the ideal side dish for Lamb Pilau?

A: While Lamb Pilau is a complete dish on its own, it pairs beautifully with yogurt-based sides like raita or a simple salad. For a more elaborate meal, serve it with a side of vegetable or lentil curry.

Remember, while these expert tips can guide you, the real magic lies in practice and personal adjustments. Each time you make the dish, you’ll get closer to your version of the perfect Lamb Pilau.Enjoy your flavorful and aromatic Pakistani-style Lamb Pilau Rice!


Lamb Pilau, with its rich history and intricate blend of flavors, stands as a beacon of Pakistan’s culinary prowess. As we journeyed through the facets of creating this masterpiece, we realized that it’s more than just a dish; it’s a story, an emotion, a legacy. The nuanced balance of spices, the tender lamb pieces, and the perfectly cooked grains of rice all speak of a tradition that values precision, patience, and passion. By embracing the techniques and tips outlined in this guide, not only have we paid homage to a timeless classic, but we’ve also paved the way for future generations to cherish and uphold the beauty of Pakistani cuisine. As you savor the fruits of your culinary labor, remember that each bite of Lamb Pilau is a celebration of culture, history, and the sheer joy of cooking. Bon appétit!

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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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