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How to cook pilau rice


1. The very best utensil for cooking fluffy, separate rice is a frying pan with a lid. Over the years I have found that the shallower the rice is spread out during cooking, the better. Buying a 10 inch (25.5 cm) pan with a lid would be a good lifetime investment for rice cooking. Failing that, try to find a large saucepan lid that will fit your normal frying pan.

The following quantities will make enough pilau rice to serve four to six people. For an aromatic, almost scented flavour, crush 2 cardamom pods, ¾ level teaspoon cumin and ½ level teaspoon coriander seeds using a pestle and mortar. Add the spices (the pods as well as the seeds of the cardamom) to a warmed frying pan and turn the heat up high to dry roast them. This will take about 1 minute and will draw the flavour out of the spices.
 2. Add 1 tablespoon of groundnut oil and 1 small finely chopped onion and fry for about 3 minutes, until the onion is lightly tinged brown.
 3. The best quality rice is basmati, which has long, thin pointed grains and the best flavour. It is more expensive than others but, since cooking is about flavour, it is the one to buy, as it does have a far superior taste. Always measure rice by volume and not by weight in a measuring jug and use 10 fl oz (275 ml) – that's 2½ fl oz (65 ml) per person.
 4. Add the rice to the pan. The rice doesn't need to be washed because it is thoroughly cleaned at the milling stage and washing it removes some of the nutrients (anyway the high temperature of the cooking will purify it). Turn the grains over until they are nicely coated and glistening with oil. This helps to keep the grains separate.
 5. Then add the boiling water to the pan – the quantity of liquid you will need is exactly double the volume of rice, so 10 fl oz (275 ml) needs 1 pint (570 ml) of boiling water or stock. Stock is an excellent alternative, particularly if the rice is to be served with chicken (use chicken stock) or beef (use beef stock), and for fish a fish stock is particularly good. I don't recommend stock cubes, as I find them too strong, masking the delicate flavour of the rice. You also need to add a 1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick, a bay leaf and a good seasoning of salt (about 1 level teaspoon to every 5 fl oz/150 ml of rice). Once the hot liquid has been added, stir only once as you don't want to break the delicate grains – this releases the starch and gives sticky rice, spoiling it utterly. Because people get nervous and anxious, or because they just have a habit of stirring things, this causes the fatal flaw.
 6. Put the lid on and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Then leave it alone – once the lid is on, set the timer and go away! If you lift the lid and let the steam out you can slow down the cooking process, and rice should always be cooked as briefly as possible. Give white rice 15 minutes and brown rice 40 minutes and use a timer – overcooking will spoil it. The best way to test if it is cooked is simply to bite a grain. Another way is to tilt the pan and, if liquid collects at the edge, it will need a couple more minutes.
 7. When the rice is cooked, remove the lid, turn the heat off and place a clean tea cloth over the pan for 5-10 minutes. This will absorb the steam and help keep the grains dry and separate. Just before serving, use the tip of a skewer or a fork to lightly fluff up the grains.

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