This great, easy side dish was one of the first my class learned in the first kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America. It’s that basic, and yet I don’t know many people who use it anymore. Maybe we stopped when companies started making it for us, sold in boxes with packets of seasonings.
It’s an infinitely variable and foolproof method. Cook aromatics in a flavorful fat, add rice and flavorful liquid, bring to a simmer, cover, and put in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Perfect every time. (You can put the burner on low and finish it on the stovetop, but the oven method obviates having to worry about overcooking or hot spots in your pot.) Keep it simple and use just some minced onion and stock. Or use sautéed mushrooms as your pilaf starter, or sauté diced red and green bell peppers for a more colorful version. Add saffron or curry powder for additional flavor.
Historically, some form of pilaf was made wherever rice grew, and it could contain anything edible—all manner of meat, vegetables, dried fruits, and seasonings. Here, as we move along the rice continuum, I offer the most basic of rice pilafs. If you use your own stock, it will be heavenly. If you use store-bought broth, I recommend cutting it with 40 to 50 percent water. And always be careful when seasoning a dish that includes store-bought broth, which often contain high levels of salt.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter or oil in a high-sided pot over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, a few minutes. (The more you cook it, the more flavorful it will become—you can even caramelize it if you wish.) Add the rice and stir to coat it with the fat. Add the stock and bay leaf. As it’s coming to a simmer, taste the stock. However heavily seasoned that stock is, that’s how seasoned your rice will be, so if you think the stock could use a little salt, add it now. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter or oil, give it another stir, cover, and put it in the
The rice will stay warm for a while after being removed from the oven. Remove the bay leaf and fluff the rice with a fork before serving. Taste it and add more butter if you feel like it.
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