This Rice Pilaf is a classic side dish that goes well with nearly any meal, making it a wonderful staple in anyone’s kitchen. It’s simple, fluffy, and flavorful, and ready in about a half hour. It’s satisfying as is, or it can easily be customized with fresh herbs and other additions.
A lot of times people think of rice as a boring side dish, but you can create quite a different experience depending on how you cook it. This rice pilaf is about as minimal as it gets when it comes to ingredients, but still has wonderful flavor and texture. It’s perfectly fluffy and steamed, with separated, tender grains that aren’t sticky.
The method I share here is adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated cookbook I received for Christmas many years ago, called The Science of Good Cooking (affiliate), and it has gone through MANY rounds of recipe testing. I was quite intrigued by their chapter on rice and have since experimented with several methods, as well as many different varieties. This is my favorite way to make pilaf!
Tips for Best Results
Pick the right variety – My two favorites are jasmine or basmati, which are both long-grain, fragrant, and easily accessible varieties. I find that generic “long grain rice” doesn’t have as much aroma.
Rinse thoroughly, but don’t soak – For the distinct separate grains that typically characterize a Rice Pilaf, you’ll want to rinse the grains thoroughly under running water, to rinse away the excess starch from the outside. Soaking will actually give you a bloated end result and should be avoided.
Let it sit for 10 minutes after cooking – This makes such a big difference in the end “fluffiness” and allows any last bits of moisture to absorb in. Don’t skip it unless you’re absolutely in a rush.
Step by Step Overview:
Start by combining butter, shallots, and salt in a nonstick pan:
Let that cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallots soften. While the shallots cook, prepare the rice.
What kind of rice to use?
My top recommendations are to use Jasmine or Basmati. They are both quite different from each other, so try both to see which you like better. I personally prefer Jasmine a bit more, but will do Basmati if I’m making a more Indian-themed meal.
You may also use the generic “long grain rice” from the store, but keep in mind that quality ranges quite a bit.
Place the rice in a strainer, and rinse for 2 minutes.
Rinse but don’t soak
No soaking is necessary for a good rice pilaf. Cook’s Illustrated did tests and discovered that it can actually make the grains bloated and overcooked. Rinsing under running water is perfect for rinsing away the outer starch and giving you nicely separated grains in the final dish.
When the shallots are properly softened, they should like this:
Add the rinsed rice to the pan, and stir:
Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until the grains looks chalky and opaque. You can see how different the rice looks in the photo below. This toasting period also aids in the rice pilaf texture we ultimately want, with separated grains.
Then add chicken stock and a little extra salt to the pan:
The Perfect Rice to Liquid Ratio
For rice pilaf, we do a 2 cups rice to 3 cups liquid ratio. That’s right: the ratio for pilaf is different than regular steamed rice. You don’t need as much liquid when you’re toasting the grains beforehand in oil, and adding more will give you a bloated end result.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and put the lid on. After 18-20 minutes, the liquid will be absorbed:
Fluff the rice and give it a good stir, as it can get drier on the bottom than the top.
Then replace the lid and let the pilaf sit for 10 more minutes.
This gives the water more time to redistribute, and gives the grains a lighter texture. This really does make a big difference!
How to Serve It
The Rice Pilaf will be at its best when served piping hot after cooking, because the grains tend to firm up as they cool. I love serving it with dishes like Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and Pork Tenderloin.
Feel free to throw in some chopped fresh herbs, like chives, basil, chervil, or parsley. You may toss it in either right before you rest the pilaf for 10 minutes, to wilt the herbs slightly, or right before serving, to wilt the herbs less.
Tips and FAQ
Keep in an airtight container so the pilaf doesn’t dry out, and store for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Yes, it freezes well for up to two months.
Cooking the rice in the oil is essential, so a rice cooker won’t work well. An Instant Pot (affiliate) is a better option.
Reheat in the microwave, always with a lid or some sort of cover to trap the steam in, otherwise the pilaf will dry out.
- 2 cups long grain white rice (I think jasmine and basmati are best)
- 2 tbsp butter (or olive oil*)
- 1/2 cup chopped shallots
- 1/4 + 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Place the rice in a strainer, and rinse well for 2 minutes.
- Add the butter, shallots, and 1/4 tsp salt to a nonstick pan (use one that has a lid), and cook for 5 minutes, until slightly softened.
- Add the rinsed rice and toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until the grains turns chalky and opaque.
- Add the chicken stock and remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and increase the heat to high. Once the liquid reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer (low heat), and cover the pan with the lid**.
- Cook for 18-20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed.
- Stir and fluff the rice, as the bottom tends to get drier than the top, replace the lid, and let the pilaf sit for 10 more minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated in August 2020. Originally published November 2018.