Introduction on How To Make Pilau Rice Pakistani

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Pakistani cuisine, known for its rich flavors and unique blending of spices, offers an array of dishes that can tantalize any palate. Among its jewels is the fragrant pilau rice, a harmonious medley of rice, spices, and sometimes, tender meat or vegetables. More than just a side dish, pilau rice is an embodiment of cultural nuances, culinary traditions, and stories passed down through generations. Embarking on the journey to craft the perfect pilau is not just about mastering a recipe but also about understanding its cultural significance. In this guide, we’ll delve into the step-by-step method of preparing authentic Pakistani pilau rice, transporting your senses straight to the bustling streets and warm households of Pakistan. Whether you’re a novice in the kitchen or a seasoned chef, this dish promises to be a delightful addition to your repertoire.

How To Make Pilau Rice Pakistani

Pakistani pilau rice, often referred to as “Pulao,” is a flavorful and aromatic rice dish that’s infused with a combination of spices, meats, and sometimes vegetables or dried fruits. The preparation and flavors can vary from one region to another within Pakistan. Here’s a basic recipe for Pakistani Chicken Pulao, which is one of the more popular versions:


  • 2 cups Basmati rice
  • 500g chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 4-5 cups of chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, whisked
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (adjust according to heat preference)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil or ghee
  • Fresh cilantro and mint leaves, chopped (for garnish)
  • Lemon wedges (optional)


  • Rice Preparation: Rinse the rice several times until the water is clear to remove excess starch. Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain.
  • Sauté Onions: In a large pot, heat the oil or ghee. Add the sliced onions and fry until they turn golden brown. Remove half of the onions and set aside for garnishing later.
  • Add Chicken and Spices: To the pot, add the chicken pieces, ginger, and garlic. Fry until the chicken turns white. Now, add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, peppercorns, red chili powder, turmeric powder, and salt. Stir well to coat the chicken with the spices.
  • Add Yogurt: Incorporate the whisked yogurt into the pot, ensuring the chicken pieces are well covered. Cook for a few minutes until the oil or ghee starts to separate from the yogurt.
  • Water/Broth and Rice: Pour the chicken broth or water into the pot. If you’re using water, ensure it’s hot. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the soaked and drained rice.
  • Simmer: Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through and all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Garnish and Serve: Fluff the rice gently with a fork. Garnish with the reserved fried onions, chopped cilantro, and mint leaves. Serve hot with lemon wedges, raita, or a side salad.

This Pakistani Chicken Pulao is rich, flavorful, and aromatic, making it perfect for special occasions or simply when you want to indulge in a hearty meal. Remember, there are many variations to pulao across Pakistan, so feel free to adjust spices and ingredients as per regional or family preferences.


Making Pakistani pilau rice, or “Pulao,” is an art in itself. Here are some tips to ensure your pulao turns out flavorful, aromatic, and perfectly cooked:

  • Quality Rice: Always use high-quality Basmati rice for pulao. This type of rice has long grains that remain separate when cooked, which is ideal for this dish.
  • Rinsing and Soaking: Rinse the rice multiple times to remove excess starch which helps prevent it from becoming sticky. Soaking the rice for about 30 minutes ensures even cooking and fluffier grains.
  • Golden Onions: Achieving the right color for your fried onions is crucial for both taste and presentation. Aim for a deep golden hue but avoid burning them.
  • Right Amount of Liquid: The amount of liquid (water or broth) is crucial. Typically, the rice-to-liquid ratio is about 1:2, but this can slightly vary depending on the rice brand. Keep an eye on the rice while cooking to ensure it doesn’t become too mushy or remain undercooked.
  • Yogurt: Using yogurt enhances the richness and taste of pulao. Make sure it’s well whisked before adding, and always use fresh yogurt to avoid curdling.
  • Spices: Don’t be shy with spices! They give pulao its distinct flavor. However, ensure they are fresh for the best aroma. You can also use a muslin cloth to tie whole spices together, making them easier to remove later.
  • Consistent Heat: Once you’ve added the rice and liquid, keep the heat consistent. A simmer is ideal. This will ensure the rice cooks evenly without burning at the bottom.
  • Steaming: To finish off, once the rice is almost done, you can reduce the heat to the lowest setting, place a clean kitchen towel under the lid to trap steam, and let it sit for another 10-15 minutes. This steaming technique ensures perfectly cooked rice.
  • Gentle Mixing: Always use a flat spatula or fork to mix or fluff the rice. This will help keep the rice grains intact without breaking them.
  • Bone-in Chicken: If using chicken, bone-in pieces are often more flavorful than boneless.
  • Optional Ingredients: Some families like to add a pinch of saffron soaked in warm milk or a splash of rose water or kewra water for added aroma.
  • Garnish: Consider using slivered almonds, raisins, or boiled eggs for garnishing, depending on regional or family preferences.

Remember, like any traditional dish, there’s room for variation in pulao recipes. Every Pakistani family might have its unique way of making it. The key is to balance flavors and ensure the rice is perfectly cooked.

Storage Instructions

Pilau (or Pulao) rice is a popular dish in Pakistani cuisine, made with rice, spices, and sometimes meat or vegetables. Once you’ve prepared it, follow these storage instructions to maintain its freshness and taste:

  • Storing Freshly Cooked Pilau Rice:
  • Cooling: Let the pilau rice come to room temperature after cooking. It’s crucial not to leave rice out for more than an hour or so, as bacteria can multiply rapidly.
  • Air-Tight Containers: Transfer the cooled pilau rice into air-tight containers or resealable plastic bags. This prevents moisture from getting in and keeps the rice fresh.
  • Refrigeration: Store the rice in the refrigerator if you plan to eat it within 3-5 days. Consuming rice within this time frame ensures its best quality and taste.
  • Freezing: If you want to store pilau rice for an extended period, consider freezing it. Place the rice in freezer-safe bags or containers. When stored properly, frozen pilau rice can last for up to 1-2 months.
  • Reheating Pilau Rice:
  • From Refrigerator: When reheating pilau rice from the fridge, you can use a microwave, stovetop, or oven. If using a microwave, sprinkle a little water over the rice to prevent it from drying out. Microwave in short intervals, stirring in between until hot. For stovetop, place the rice in a pan, add a little water, and reheat on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  • From Freezer: It’s best to thaw frozen pilau rice in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, reheat as you would with refrigerated rice. If you’re in a hurry, you can microwave the rice directly from the freezer. Make sure to sprinkle some water on the rice and use a microwave-safe dish.
  • Safety Tips:
  • Avoid Reheating Multiple Times: Only reheat the amount of rice you intend to consume. Repeated reheating can degrade the texture and can also pose health risks.
  • Smell and Appearance: Before reheating or consuming stored pilau rice, check for any off-putting smells or mold. If anything seems off, it’s safer to discard the rice.

Remember, rice storage is crucial for safety reasons. The bacteria Bacillus cereus is often associated with improperly stored rice and can lead to food poisoning. Proper cooling, storage, and reheating can mitigate these risks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Here are some common questions and answers related to making Pakistani-style pilau rice:

Q: What is Pakistani-style pilau rice?

A: Pakistani-style pilau rice, often known as “pulao” or “pulao rice,” is a fragrant rice dish cooked with aromatic spices, vegetables, and sometimes meat. It’s a staple in Pakistani cuisine and is known for its rich flavors and colorful appearance.

Q: What spices are commonly used in Pakistani pilau rice?

A: The key spices used in Pakistani pilau rice include cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. These spices create the distinctive and aromatic flavor profile of the dish.

Q: Can I make vegetarian or vegan Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Yes, you can easily make vegetarian or vegan pilau rice by omitting the meat and using vegetable broth. The spices and vegetables will still infuse the rice with delicious flavors.

Q: How is Pakistani pilau rice different from other types of pilau rice?

A: Pakistani pilau rice often includes additional ingredients like fried onions (birista) for extra flavor and texture. It’s also known for its rich use of aromatic spices, creating a more complex and robust flavor profile compared to some other versions of pilau.

Q: What type of rice is typically used for Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Basmati rice is the preferred choice for Pakistani pilau rice. Its long grains and aromatic nature contribute to the dish’s overall texture and flavor.

Q: What can I serve with Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Pakistani pilau rice is often served with raita (yogurt with herbs and spices), chutney, and various meat or vegetable curries. It’s a versatile dish that can be paired with a wide range of side dishes.

Q: How do I achieve the perfect balance of flavors in Pakistani pilau rice?

A: To achieve the ideal balance, sauté onions, garlic, and ginger in ghee or oil until golden brown before adding the spices. This helps to develop a rich base of flavors. You can also add a splash of yogurt to enhance the creaminess and tanginess of the dish.

Q: Can I add dried fruits and nuts to Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Yes, adding dried fruits like raisins, apricots, and nuts like almonds or cashews is common in Pakistani pilau rice. These ingredients add sweetness and a delightful crunch to the dish.

Q: What’s the process for layering the rice and meat/vegetables in Pakistani pilau?

A: Layering is a crucial step in Pakistani pilau rice. After sautéing spices, onions, and aromatics, layer a portion of the rice at the bottom of the pot, followed by the meat or vegetables, then another layer of rice. Repeat as needed, finishing with a layer of rice. Pour in the water or broth, cover, and cook on low heat until the rice is tender.

Q: Can you provide insights on creating regional variations of Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Pakistani cuisine is diverse, and regional variations of pilau rice exist. For example, Sindhi Biryani from Sindh province incorporates marinated meat, whereas Kabuli Pulao from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region uses fragrant rice with raisins, carrots, and nuts. Explore these regional styles to discover the unique flavors they offer.

Q: How can I create the authentic taste and aroma of Pakistani pilau rice?

A: To achieve the authentic taste, start by sautéing sliced onions until they turn golden brown. This step is critical for the flavor base. Utilize a mix of aromatic spices such as whole cumin, green cardamom, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and black peppercorns. Toast these spices briefly in hot oil before adding rice.

Q: What techniques can I use to enhance the color of Pakistani pilau rice?

A: To enhance color, consider using a pinch of saffron strands infused in warm milk. Gently drizzle the saffron-infused milk over the partially cooked rice before allowing it to continue cooking. This imparts a beautiful golden hue to the rice.

Q: How do I ensure the rice grains in Pakistani pilau are separate yet fully infused with flavor?

A: To achieve both separate grains and infused flavor, rinse the basmati rice until the water runs clear to remove excess starch. Parboil the rice until it’s about 70-80% cooked. Then layer it with the sautéed spices and fried onions, allowing the flavors to meld during the final cooking.

Q: What advanced techniques can I use to make a standout birista (fried onions) for the pilau?

A: For exceptional birista, thinly slice onions and deep-fry them until they turn a deep golden brown. This enhances their crunch and flavor. Sprinkle a pinch of salt while frying to draw out moisture and achieve crispiness. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.

Q: Can I incorporate a unique meat preparation method to elevate the pilau?

A: Consider marinating the meat with yogurt and a blend of spices before cooking. This technique tenderizes the meat while infusing it with rich flavors. Sauté the marinated meat briefly before layering it with rice for a succulent and aromatic result.

Q: How can I introduce a complex layering technique to the pilau?

A: Try the “dum” technique, where you seal the pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook on very low heat to trap steam. This slow-cooking process allows the flavors to intensify and meld. Seal the lid with dough to prevent steam from escaping, and cook until the rice is fully done.

Q: Can I incorporate a balance of textures by using different types of rice in the pilau?

A: Yes, you can mix long-grain and short-grain rice for varying textures. Parboil the long-grain rice slightly before layering, and then add short-grain rice later in the cooking process. This technique offers a delightful blend of tender and chewy grains.

Q: How can I personalize the pilau by incorporating regional Pakistani flavors?

A: Pakistani cuisine varies by region. For Lahori-style pilau, consider using whole red chilies for a touch of heat. Sindhi-style pilau might include tamarind pulp for a tangy kick. Adapt the recipe based on the unique spices and ingredients associated with the region you’re interested in.

Q: What garnishes can I use to elevate the presentation of Pakistani pilau rice?

A: Garnish with fresh mint leaves, chopped cilantro, and a sprinkle of fried onions. You can also adorn the pilau with slivered almonds and toasted cashews for added texture and visual appeal.

Q: How can I create a fusion of flavors by incorporating Pakistani and other international cuisines into pilau rice?

A: Experiment by adding a touch of fusion. For instance, you might infuse the pilau with Thai flavors using lemongrass and coconut milk, or incorporate Middle Eastern influences with sumac and pomegranate seeds. However, ensure that the fusion maintains a balance that complements the traditional Pakistani essence.

Enjoy the process of creating Pakistani-style pilau rice, and don’t hesitate to customize the recipe to your taste and preferences.


In wrapping up our aromatic sojourn into the heart of Pakistani cuisine, it becomes evident that pilau rice is more than just a dish — it’s a testament to a rich culinary heritage. The intertwining of spices, rice, and sometimes meats or vegetables, results in a dish that resonates deeply with the essence of Pakistan’s culinary diversity. As you savor each bite, the layers of flavor and fragrance transport you, evoking images of age-old traditions and familial gatherings. Crafting the perfect pilau rice is not just a cooking endeavor, but an intimate dance with history and culture. By mastering this recipe, you are not just expanding your culinary skills but also paying homage to a timeless culinary masterpiece that has graced countless tables across Pakistan. So the next time you place a pot of freshly-cooked pilau on your table, remember that you are partaking in, and perpetuating, a storied tradition that transcends borders and generations.

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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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