Essence of Chicken Pilaf

Persian reign over India lasted several hundred years. In the course of time, Indian and Persian cooking techniques merged, and one of the many dishes created in the kitchens of the royal emperors was the pilaf (or pulao, as they call it in India). Cooking rice with meat or meat stock is not uncommon; however, when done with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon, it imparts a lingering fragrance. I love the taste of chicken stock but not necessarily the animal “smell,” which aromatic spices help mask. This rice tastes even better the next day.

makes ~6 servings


2 cups basmati rice

1 pound chicken bones (preferably back and breast cages)

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into long, thick pieces

3 stalks of celery, trimmed and cut in half

10-12 whole cardamom pods

2-3 sticks of cinnamon

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Generous pinch of saffron

1½ tablespoon salt

3 tablespoon ghee

Half a bunch of cilantro

½ cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup pistachios



  1. Rinse the basmati rice in tap water 2 times. Soak the rice for 2-3 hours.

  2. Combine the chicken bones, carrot, celery, cardamom pods, cinnamon, black peppercorns, saffron, salt and 8 cups of water in a large Dutch oven. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the stock for 1½-2 hours.

  3. Add the drained rice and bring the mixture to a boil again. Turn the heat down and cover with a tight lid and let the rice cook for 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pilaf rest for 15 minutes. Remove the bones if needed.

  4. Garnish with cilantro, pumpkin seeds and pistachios.

  5. Just before serving, stir in the remaining watercress and serve garnished with the fennel fronds and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle more ghee if desired. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

ideas / variations

  • Basmati rice is an unpolished long-grain rice. Be careful when rinsing or cooking it so as not to break up the kernels.

  • The whole cardamom and black peppercorns become soft in the cooking and are edible, adding a mild yet delicious spicy bite.

  • Pilaf is also delicious with lamb, beef or oxtail bones.