Skip to Content

How to Make The Best Rice Pilau Recipe

Sharing is caring!

Nothing makes a good Indian dinner into an outstanding Indian dinner like a great rice pilau.

Rice pilau can be eaten with your favourite curry or simply on its own.

In fact I used to make a similar rice pilau recipe all the time in my university years when I needed to eat but wanted to ensure I had enough beer money.

Nowadays, I must cook rice pilau once a week because it’s so easy and tastes great too.

Pilau rice

So good with curry or on its own.

Getting this rice pilau recipe right

One of the most important parts of getting a rice pilau right is using the best quality ingredients.

Aged, long grain Basmati rice is a must.

It is slightly more expensive than lower quality Basmati but you will notice the difference in the flavour and delicious aroma. Both are incredible.

Obviously, the freshness of your other ingredients are very important too.

As for the saffron, I use Iranian saffron when I can get it. It’s the best in the world. When I can’t get that, I go for Spanish saffron. 

Both are more expensive than other varieties but a little goes a long way.

Soaking the rice

Treating the rice correctly is very important. You need to wash it in several changes of water to get the starch off.

If you simply leave the starch on the rice and don’t wash it correctly, it will become sticky when cooked. Pour some water over the rice and swirl it around with your hand.

As you do this, the water will turn milky white. That’s the starch.

Repeat this several times until the water is almost clear when swirled around. Then soak the rice in clean water for about 30 minutes.

Cooking the rice

I use two methods for cooking the pilau rice. My preferred method is to steam it. 

Use a 1 – 1.5 ratio of rice to water. So if you are cooking one cup of rice, cover it with 1 1/2 cups of water.

Cover your pan and bring to a boil. When it boil, turn off the heat and let it sit, covered for 40 minutes to steam. DO NOT lift that lid. 

After 40 minutes, the rice will be cooked to perfection. 

The other way I cook basmati is the boiling method. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the soaked rice. Cook for about 7 minutes until cooked. At about 6 minutes you need to start checking it to ensure it is cooked to your liking. Strain and serve.

Be careful when handling cooked Basmati rice

You don’t want your rice pilau to be mushy and so treat your Basmati carefully. 

If using the steamed method, the rice will be quite compact in the pan. Using a chop stick or similar, lightly separate the grains.

This is where many people go wrong with Basmati. They handle it to roughly.

If you were to simply go in and start stirring the rice, the grains will split and you will be left with a pot of rice mush.

Another way to cook this rice pilau

In the recipe below, I have used the steamed method and also cooked the rice with all the other ingredients.

Doing this, the rice takes on all those amazing flavours. 

Some people, however like to work ahead or they simply prefer the fried version. This is easily done. 

Fry the other ingredients except for the saffron milk. This can be placed in the fridge if working ahead. The cook your rice using the steamed or boiled method mentioned above. 

When frying Basmati rice, you need to fry it from cold. If you fry warm rice, it will split. So get that cooked rice in the fridge to chill.

When ready to cook, heat up or fry your veggies in oil. Add the cold rice and stir to combine, very carefully to avoid splitting in the oil. Stir in the saffron milk. and serve. Season with a little salt if you like. 



Making rice pilau

Infusing the saffron.

Making pilau rice

Spices sizzling in the ghee.

Making pilau rice

Fry the onion until soft and translucent.

Making pilau rice

Add the rice and saffron infused milk.

Making pilau rice

Stir it all up in the oil and cover with the water.

Making pilau rice

Cover and bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let sit undisturbed for 40 minutes.


If you enjoy this recipe try my other rice recipes:

Pilau Rice with Ghee or Butter

Gunpowder Rice

Vegetable Fried Rice

Coriander Rice with Lime

Cumin Rice

Cauliflower Egg Fred Rice

Onion Fried Rice

Yield: 4

How to Make The Best Rice Pilau Recipe

How to Make The Best Rice Pilau Recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 250g (9 0z) Good quality Basmati Rice
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 finely chopped Spanish onion
  • 3 black cardamom pods or 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves.


  1. Pour the rice into a bowl and cover with water. With your hand, move the rice around in the water. The starch will come of the rice and the water will become milky. Pour out the water and fill the bowl with fresh water.
  2. This time, allow to sit for about a half hour.
  3. Again, move the water around with your hand until the water becomes white and milky. Pour away the white water and fill up the bowl again.
  4. Now repeat the process as many times as required until the water is clear.
  5. Pour about 3 tablespoons of milk into a cup and place in the microwave for about 25 seconds until the milk is hand hot.
  6. Put the saffron threads in the milk and set aside to infuse.
  7. In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, pour the 3 tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of the ghee. Over medium heat, fry half of the finely chopped onion until crispy. Remove the fried onion to a paper towel to dry.
  8. Now throw in the spices and the rest of the onion. Fry - adding a little more oil if needed - for about five minutes or until the onion is translucent and lightly browned.
  9. Add the rice and about 500ml of water and cover with the lid. Bring to a boil for about ten seconds and then turn off the heat. DO NOT take the lid off of the pot. Allow the rice to sit in the covered pot for 40 minutes undisturbed.
  10. Just one last step to the perfect rice pilau!
  11. Just before serving, take the lid off, add the saffron milk, the rest of the ghee and the crispy onions and lightly stir with a fork to get rid of any clumps.
  12. When cooking basmati rice, it is important not to to stir too vigorously as the rice grains will split and become mushy. Be careful.
  13. I hope you enjoy this rice pilau recipes as much as my family friends and I have. It would be great to hear from you so please leave a comment if you like.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Did you like this recipe?

Please join me on Facebook where I share all my latest recipes and videos. Just click that Facebook icon on the left and let's get to know each other!

I hope you enjoy this rice pilau recipe. If you do try it, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. 


Peter Evans

Saturday 10th of December 2022

Done this many times now, always perfect and a hit with everyone.


Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Cook for boil for 10 seconds? Is that right

Dan Toombs

Friday 14th of May 2021

Hi Yes - that is correct. Just let it come to a boil until you see big bubbles then you cover and leave for 40 minutes. This will work if you follow my instructions. Thanks Dan

Tina Cole

Monday 20th of July 2020

Hi Dan. Just to let you know that on the recipe for "th best pilau rice" there is a spelling error. It should say "not to" but it says "it is important to to stir too vigorously" Just wanted to let you know to stop any errors for the people making it. Loving the recipes. Thanks

Regards Tina

Dan Toombs

Tuesday 21st of July 2020

Thanks very much, Tina. I will get that changed. Dan

John Thipthorpe

Monday 8th of June 2020

Hi Dan

Just to say first of all a big thank you. I have tried a few of your recipes and have been amazed by the results. When my naan stuck to the frying pan and I flipped it over to finish on the gas ring i was gobsmacked. Even more so by the finished product!

However I can't seem to get this recipe right. The rice just seems the wrong texture and when I add the milk at the end it doesn't seem to absorb properly. I tried reducing the water a bit but the results were similar. Any other ideas?



Dan Toombs

Saturday 13th of June 2020

Hi John

Thank you very much for getting in touch. Sorry you are having trouble with that recipe. It's hard to answer without seeing the problem. It could possibly be down to the pan you are using and how tight the lid fits. Try adjusting so that you are using a 1 part rice to 1 1/2 part water ratio. So you will need 375ml water for the 250g rice. This should solve the problem. Also be sure that you are using a large enough saucepan. I learned through experience that the water and rice should not fill more than 1/3 of the pan. Hope this helps. Thanks, Dan

David Heesom

Saturday 23rd of May 2020

Hi Dan Silly question but does it matter if you use hot or cold water. Thanks David

Dan Toombs

Saturday 23rd of May 2020

Hi David Definitely use cold water as you always have to be careful with rice so I wouldn't leave it sitting in warm water. Thanks Dan

Skip to Recipe

Sharing is Caring

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!