I told you about my experience making rice pilaf for the first time in my recent post about my second week of culinary school. We made the side dish to accompany our creamy veal stew (blanquette de veau) and I must say I wasn’t very excited about this one. I’ve never liked rice. Sure, it’s great with Asian food because it’s covered in sauce. Sometimes I’ll make rice along with white fish that I sautée in a cream sauce. Again, the rice itself is masked. I do love risotto, but yeah… You see where I’m going here. Rice for me has to be a hidden ingredient and not a star ingredient. Until now.
The chef taught me that cooking rice as most of us do when we’re at home in boiling, salted water, is called the Creole method. Rice pilaf is not, as many people think, a particular dish, but more a cooking method. The image that I had of rice pilaf was a side with carrots and peas. This is not necessarily the case. Pilaf refers to the method of cooking a minced onion in butter and olive oil and then adding the rice to this mixture, essentially coating each grain with fat until it becomes translucent, like in a risotto. Next, seasoning and herbs are added, along with a little water or stock and the rice is cooked in the oven. Rice pilaf!
I remember tasting a small forkful of this rice we made in class to make sure it was cooked… And it was fabulous. I couldn’t believe my taste buds, but I made a mental note of giving rice a second chance. I made this pilaf to go along with some leftover chicken Colombo over the weekend, and honestly, I think I enjoyed the side more than the main dish. It’s so simple (but of course it takes a few more steps than just boiling rice). The butter and olive oil give the rice a distinctly rich flavor while the bouquet garni (made up of thyme, rosemary and laurel in a leek leaf) perfumes the entire dish like magic. Plus the rice has a beautiful, plump consistency, with each and every grain bringing the flavor. Feel free to experiment by adding different spices or veggies to the dish. I’m thinking cardamom next time for an Indian twist!
Classic rice pilaf
2 C rice (long grain)
3 C water or stock
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 dark leek leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 laurel or bay leaf
Make sure you make this dish using a pot or pan with a lid that is oven safe. Preheat your oven to 390°. Begin by heating the olive oil with 1 T of butter over medium heat. Make your bouquet garni by placing the herbs inside the leek leaf and rolling it closed, then securing it with string. Next, make your parchment paper chimney. Starting with a square, fold in half, then in half again. You’re back to a square. Always remember where the center will be as this should be the point of your little triangle once you’re done folding. Continue folding until you can’t fold any longer. Place the point near the center of your pan and then cut off the excess. Unfold and voilà!
Mince your onion (as small as possible) and add it to the pan once the fat is nice and hot. Cook the onion without browning it for about three minutes before you add your rice. Stir the rice to coat it with fat and let it cook for about 2-3 minutes longer, until it becomes translucent.
Add your liquid, your bouquet garni and season with salt and pepper. Just when the rice begins to simmer, place your parchment chimney in your pan and press it gently against the rice, sealing the moisture in on all sides. Put on your lid and place it in the oven. Let it cook undisturbed for 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and taste the rice to make sure it’s cooked. If not, put it back in the oven, adding a tiny bit of water if necessary, two to three minutes longer. Once you’re sure the rice is cooked, let it rest with the lid on for about five minutes more (the rice will plump up at this point). Finish the dish by stirring in the remaining butter and serve right away.