Thursday 25 May 2017

Tropical Pilaf With Chicken

Living here in the Western Cape we are surrounded by the Cape Malay style cooking, in a geo-culinary way. Which means that we literally have access to all the ingredients that make up the Cape Malay menu.

And we are not really expanding our domestic menu. Not very clever, one would venture.

So, with this realisation in mind and having the creative urge again, I did some brief research. Meaning I actually opened two of my cook books and perused the contents in a scholarly fashion, rather than a drooling hungry sailor fashion.

In our home we have regular curries with plain rice. But also we make biryanis, risottos and paellas, not forgetting stir fried rice with veggies. All of these are dishes that contains some form of sauce, making them on the juicy side. From my brief research the missus and I then decided to broaden our scope of rice dishes by trying a drier variety of rice dish and specifically pilaf. This dish has a myriad of variations and flavours and can be served as a side with just about any main by just varying the spices. The dish also has different styles and names, depending on where in the world you are. Wikipedia has some interesting facts on this dish.

We decided on a version with chicken, where the chicken is steamed in the rice. This makes it a complete one pot main. No extra cleaning up required! And just for fun I decided on a sweet and fruity version. Complete with coconut milk and mangos.

This dish will go very well with any fried or barbecued fish as a side dish. Especially in a tropical setting. The ingredients are simple and the process is almost a no-brainer. Preparation and cooking time is about half an hour.

The standard pilaf consists of raw rice fried in a flavoured oil, then slowly simmered in a stock till done. The rice comes out fluffy and loose, with all the flavours blended in. I chose to use coconut milk and some chopped dried mangos as main flavours to enhance the nutty flavour of the basmati rice.

Part of the stock for this dish comes from the caramelised meat sticking to the pan in the beginning.

The ingredients for this dish are simple and few, which is what makes pilaf so popular, I guess.

So here goes:

Tropical Pilaf With Chicken


400g chicken breast fillets, diced
1 to 1¼ cup basmati rice
¾ cup fresh peas
400 ml (1 can) coconut milk
3-4 slices dried mango, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
3 pods cardamom (elachi), seeded
1½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
ghee, butter and oil for frying


Pat the chicken quite dry, then fry the cubes in a dry pan until they are brown. Set aside. Now add some ghee or butter and a small amount of oil to the pan and fry the onion until at least translucent. Add the whole spices and fry them until the fragrance fills the kitchen. Now add the raw rice and stir fry until all the kernels are coated with oil. This will help with flavour and with the separation of the kernels. The flavours of the rice should begin to fill the kitchen too.

Now add the coconut milk and the chopped mango and the turmeric. Check for salt and add as required. Mix through and check again. This will be the last of stirring the pan. Add back the chicken and cover the pan.

Turn the flame down to a minimum, the lowest it will go on the smallest burner.

The rice will swell out and absorb the fluid, so you will need to check that the dish doesn't burn. Add some boiling water as required. The peas are added when the rice is almost done. Peas cook quite fast and you want them not to be soggy and lose their flavour.

The most important part comes now. Once the rice is done, turn the stove off and leave the dish to rest for at least fifteen minutes. Some recipes even call for covering the pan with a dishcloth before putting the lid on. The dishcloth will absorb the steam and not allow the condensed water to drip back into the pan. This all is designed to allow the rice to turn fluffy.

Now dish up in bowls and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves.

And then understand why pilaf may just be the prince of rice dishes.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2017-05-25


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