Chicken/Kuku Pilao

Pilao/Pilaf/Pilaff you spell it how you like! This is a dish of rice and meat, it is milder than a biryani, but with an unusualy aroma of spices.  Pilaos are made all over the world with chicken, lamb, beef or even vegetables.  I believe the first written recipe was by a Persian/Iranian!  As with any popular dishes, there are many ways in which pilao is made.

My recipe is from my reliable mother.  During our childhood in Kenya we had hot steaming pilao with lashings of plain yoghurt and kachumbari (special Kenyan salad – recipe below).  When I married my Pakistani husband, he had a laugh at this and said pilao can only be eaten with a good ‘shora’ – a curry, so in my UK home it is served with a chicken or lamb curry and classed as a feast!

Note:  I have used whole chickens to make my pilao, I would suggest you do this when you are more familiar with the process.

Serve piping hot with a vegetable/lamp/chicken curry or on its own with yoghurt and a mixed salad.  Mouthwatering!


Thinly slice 2 ozs red/white onion, sprinkle 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsps lime/lemon to the onions, keep aside for 20 mins, then squeeze out the salt and lemon, rinse the onions in cold water and place in a small bowl. Cut a medium sized tomato into small cubes, finely slice a green chillie (optional) and 1 tbs fresh sliced coriander.  Mix all of these with the onions and serve with the pilao.


Stage 1

  • 2 mugs (1lb) of Basmati Sela or other Basmati rice (soak for 2 hours or more)
  • 10 cloves of garlic peeled
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 3 tbs whole cumin
  • 3 tbs whole dry coriander seeds
  • 2 tsps whole black pepper
  • 2 tsps whole cloves
  • 2 large cinnamon sticks
  • 4 inches of ginger sliced
  • 8 ozs onions peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 whole small green chillies (skip for mild)
  • 2lb chicken cut into 2 inch pieces

Stage 2

  • 1 cup of cooking oil (not Olive oil)
  • 4 ozs of finely sliced onion
  • 1 tbs fresh crushed garlic
  • 1 tbs fresh crushed ginger
  • 3 tsps whole cumin
  • 3 tsps whole or crushed dry coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp whole black pepper
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 2 small sticks of whole cinnamon
  • 3 tbs low fat yoghurt
  • Chicken from Stage 1
  • 3.5 mugs of stock from Stage 1 (if less than 3 mugs top up, if too much use in soups, drink it or discard!)
  • 2 tsp salt (for the rice)


Stage 1

  1. Put 4 pints of water into an pan, bring to the boil on highest heat setting.  Add all ingredients except chicken. Bring to the boil and keep on a rolling boil for 10 – 15 mins to infuse the ingredients with the water.
  2. Add the chicken pieces to the boiling mixture, bring to the boil on a high flame and then switch off.
  3. Cool for 10 mins, remove partly cooked chicken pieces into a dish and keep aside.  Strain and save the liquid (stock) into a bowl, discard the remainders in the strainer.  You are now ready for Stage 2!

Stage 2

  1. Switch on oven to GM 3-4, 170-180 degrees for electric ovens.
  2. Drain the rice using a colander or large sieve, discard the water.
  3. In a large saucepan add the oil and the sliced onions, stir from time to time until onions are almost burnt (caramelised) switch off heat, add the ginger and garlic, stir in then add the whole spices, switch heat back on once it begins to sizzle add yoghurt, mix in and let mixture dry out.
  4. Raise heat to full, add the chicken pieces, keeping heat on full brown the chicken by turning over a couple of times, or hold and rotate the pan, avoid stirring as chicken pieces will break-up.
  5. If using a Rice cooker – add the chicken mixture from 2. above into the bowl of the rice cooker, add the stock and salt – switch on! It will do the rest – don’t forget to fluff up the rice when the rice cooker goes to keep.
  6. For stove-top add stock to the chicken mixture in the pan, add the salt and bring to the boil then add the rice, stir once with a wooden or plastic spoon, turn heat to medium, wait until bubbles appear all over the top of the rice and water is almost all absorbed.
  7. Cover tightly with lid or aluminium foil, and place in the heated oven for 15 – 20 mins.  Switch off oven, keep for 5 minutes then carefully take off the lid, mix-in the rice with a small saucer or spatula (this will fluff up the rice).


Quick Links

About Me

I am Sabiha Khokhar, born in Kenya now living in London – a busy working mother, wife, published author and passionate cook. Despite having many interests in life, my greatest joy is FOOD!

share this recipe:

Still hungry? Here’s more