pilau rice – indian restaurant style

If you want crazy tasty rice to go with your curries, pilau rice is just the thing you need on the table tonight.

And it’s easy. Really easy. Like no-brainer easy. If you can boil water, you can make pilau rice.

OK – maybe it’s a little more complicated than boiling water. But not a lot. Seriously. Want to nail it every time? Read on.

Bowl of indian restaurant style rice pilau with spoon from the front.

Foolproof basmati rice

There are a lot of opinions on cooking rice. One mug. Two mugs. A finger deep above the surface. Up to your first knuckle.

Rinse. Don’t rinse. Soak. Don’t soak. Make it standing on one foot. But only facing east. Except Tuesdays. Tuesdays you face west.

I have a theory about that. If it works all these different ways it’s probably near bullet proof.

I don’t know that for a fact. But if everybody has a way to make rice. And they are all different. Then it’s probably pretty hard to screw up.

I have my way. And I know it works. So it’s what I go with. This has never failed me. And it’s precise. No feel. A formula. Scale it up or down. It just works.

1 cup of rice. 1 and 1/2 cups of water. A teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a simmer uncovered. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Wait.

After 20 minutes turn off the heat. Reset the time for 5 minutes. When that second timer goes off you are good to go. It is just that easy.

Want 2 cups of rice? Use 3 cups of water. Two teaspoons of kosher salt. Everything else stays the same.

Top down table scene - rice pilau, plate, seasoning shakers and antique cutlery from above.

Pilau rice is just seasoned rice

There’s no mystery here. Rice. Water. Aromatic spices. Salt. And some ghee to make it a bit decadent. That’s it. You are just building on the foolproof basmati technique above.

You can dress it up if you want. Add peas. Top it with fried onions. Flaked almonds. Whatever you want.

But at the end of the day this is just rice. Really tasty rice. But just rice. There’s no secret. No magic. And it doesn’t need to be a big production.

I never thought I’d write this post. It actually never occurred to me that anyone would care.

But I get asked. A lot. So here it is. Happy to share.

Three simple things make pilau rice

When I make pilau rice I want three things. I want it yellow. Turmeric takes care of that.

I want the aroma to blow me away. That’s where the whole spices come in.

And I want it lush. Rich. I want every grain of rice wrapped in flavour infused buttery goodness. A little ghee takes care of that.

What I don’t want is to spend a lot of time and effort making it. Call me lazy but I don’t see the point. Nobody needs this to be more difficult than it needs to be.

If I want rice to be the star I make chicken biryani. I love a good biryani. But if it’s a supporting player, this technique does it for me. I serve pilau rice on the side. With other dishes.

Bowl of indian restaurant style rice pilau from the front.

Bloom your spices in ghee

The difference between pulau rice and Tuesday night white rice is one simple step. Bloom some whole spices in ghee. Before you cook you rice.

I grew up Indian. So I’m pretty happy with plain basmati rice. I think it’s the perfect counterpoint. Balanced. But I get that people want flash. And pulao rice brings a little bit of flash.

From an execution perspective rice pilau and white basmati rice are really close. So if you want rice pilau, it’s barely any extra work.

Melt some ghee. Toss in some whole spices. Fry briefly. Add the rice. Stir. Add the water. And just make rice. that’s it. Like I said. Easy.

You can make pilau rice as complicated as you want. Or you can just do this. And focus on the star of your Indian meal. Your call. I like it easy.

Bowl of turmeric coloured Indian restaurant style rice pilau from above.
Print Pin
4.88 from 24 votes

Easy Indian pilau rice

This the fastest way I know to make truly delicious pilau rice
Course side
Cuisine Indian
Keyword basmati, pilau rice
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Resting time 5 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 210kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 4 green cardamom
  • 1 2" piece cassia bark
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tej patta Indian bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt – a bit less if you are using regular sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric


  • Pick a pot with a tight fitting lid. For 1 cup of rice a 2 quart saucepan is a good size.
  • Heat the ghee over medium heat.
  • Add the green cardamom, cassia bark and cumin seed. Little bubbles should form around the spices. Cook for around 30 seconds.
  • Add the rice and stir. Add the water. For basmati using this technique the proportions are always 1 rice to 1 and 1/2 water. One tsp of kosher salt per cup of rice.
  • Add the turmeric and Indian bay leaf (tej patta). Bring to a lively simmer.
  • Reduce the heat to low and cover. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Do something else for a while.
  • When the timer goes off (20 minutes after you covered the pot), turn of the heat. Do not uncover. Move the pot off the burner.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes. Keep doing something else. After five minutes remove the lid and gently fluff the rice. Inhale that aroma!


You can use this to recipe to cook plain white basmati rice as well. Just skip the steps with the ghee and spices. Rice, water, salt and this technique work every time.
I sometimes replace the turmeric with Indian restaurant mix powder when I want seriously flavoured rice. 


Calories: 210kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 10mg | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 76mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 23mg | Iron: 1mg

56 thoughts on “pilau rice – indian restaurant style”

  1. 5 stars
    Dear Romain,
    we cooked this rice already so many times, but we never left a comment. Now it is definitely the time to do it! So delicious and simple to cook. I used the rice cooker, though. Steps 1-4 I did as described in the recipe. From step 5 on I moved it all to the rice cooker and let it work for me. Absolutely fantastic result! In the past, I cooked this recipe in the pan for friends, and it worked very well, too. Thank you for enriching our home cooking, it is every time again a wonder that this is possible in our own kitchen! Fantastic! Best wishes from The Netherlands, Daniel and family.

    • I will try the rice cooker trick together with a small skillet for steps 1-4. I do love my rice cooker!

  2. 5 stars
    Hi Romain, it the cooking instructions for electric hob too? As it takes longer to cool down from medium heat low heat.

    • I’ve done this on an electric hob and it works the same. This recipe is actually pretty bulletproof overall.

  3. This the basic recipe I’ve been using of late, with the addition of a pinch of saffron and using chicken stock instead of vegetable. I usually prime (my phrase) the saffron by soaking it in a little boiled water tempered with hot tap water. I haven’t tried it without the saffron, but might do just to check the difference. Wonderful recipe.

  4. Having company and would prefer my rice cooker. Same recipe and basically the same cook and rest time. What do you think? I will be timing and futzing with entree. Thanks. Mary

    • I’d bloom the spices as directed then transfer that along with everything else to the rice cooker and let your rice cooker do its thing. I know my rice cooker takes a lot longer than the stovetop method so be sure you do it so you wind up with the rice properly cooked…

  5. Hi Romain
    Being anglo indian i have tasted a lot of indian dishes in my life from my mums v. good,to restaurants in u/k where i live some good some o/k and some not so good,i visit Goa a lot and have had some great tasting dishes with some of the best coming from the beach shacks that line the beaches, but since i came across your site and started cooking your recipes the rest just does,nt compare if i can only eat yours for the rest of my life that will do, so a big thank you for sharing all your fantastic recipes and techniques with us and please don,t stop.

    • That’s a tricky one. Butter has milk solids and milk solids can turn nutty flavoured or burn (think brown butter sauce). Ghee has the milk solids removed so heating it is safer. I’d stick to ghee or be really, really careful.

  6. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious, though mine was cooked after about 14 minutes, probably because it was cheap rice. I will get some better and try it again. The flavour is super.

    • Awesome to hear! Glad you enjoyed it! Might also be because your “low” setting isn’t quite as low as mine.

  7. 5 stars
    I was told I’m the queen of making rice……but a queen always want to improve! Never thought of adding bloomed spices. Thanks. …My friend has a rice cooker. I always tell her “why? Cooking rice is so easy & it takes a lot less time to cook than a cooker!” As always I love your sense of humour!

    • All hail the queen!. Delighted to hear I could contribute a little something. Always happy to hear that there are some that get my sense of humour:-)

  8. 5 stars
    Oh, and the best website for amazing recipes and know-how. My go to site when entertaining or indeed for a special family meal. Check out the other sections y’all!

  9. Wow! This really is foolproof! I was worried I might mess it up somehow but I followed all the instructions and it turned out incredibly. Super flavourful, soft, perfect rice! I will definitely use the techniques i’ve learnt in this recipe in my future endeavours.

    Thank you for your recipes,


    • It really is foolproof. I’ve been using this technique for as long as I can remember and it has never failed me once!

  10. Hi
    I’m new to your site, and was recommended to your site by a friend.

    I only have an induction hob , what heat settings do you recommend I use for your rice recipes.
    ie. simmer etc.
    Thanks in advance

    • Welcome!

      Unfortunately I don’t have an induction hob to test this for you. Simmer is so you get gentle bubbles forming. Low is trickier unfortunately. This works on gas and electric (resistive) stoves. All I can suggest is you try it once on your low and if the rice is underdone bump the setting slightly and try again. It may seem a bit of a pain to do this but once you know you are set for as long as you own your stove.

  11. I’ve always used 1 part rice to 1.5 parts water and unless you take your eye off the needle, it’s impossible to screw it up. However, I did not know how effective your method of flavouring the rice was until I tried it tonight. Fabulous! Thank you

    • If you set a timer it really is impossible to screw up. Delighted you liked the little bit extra that flavours up the pilau!

    • 5 stars
      Yes, it works really well. Will you be publishing any recipes or techniques for keema and keema pilau rice?

    • Keema pilau rice. That’s something I need to put on the list. There are a number of keema recipes on the site already. Do a quick search to find them.

  12. 5 stars
    At last, a recipe for absolutely perfect rice, thank you so much for sharing although I’m still trying to get the timing right for double the quantity so any tips here would be greatly appreciated. It freezes perfectly also.

    • I find this recipe scales with quantities without changing the time. If you are finding it a little underdone perhaps add a minute or two to the 20 minute simmer stage? Conversely, if it’s a little overdone roll back a minute or two?

  13. Hi Romain. I have tried out a number of your recipes (Indian and French so far) and they have all exceeded ou expectations. We are so pleased to have found your website and we have recommended to many of our friends. It’s great stuff and thanks for putting the blog together.

  14. thank you for sharing…. have friends coming up on Friday, making your butter chicken indian restaurant style – which is magnificent. I will try your Pilau Rice (and feed back 😉 )as opposed to my normal steamed basmati rice.

    • 5 stars
      Pilau Rice came out really well. Tried it with your Makhani recipe which tasted better than the local eateries round where I live. One quick question about the Pilau…. I made it just a wee bit too moist. Any tips to make slightly drier?

    • Glad you liked it. Great to hear about the makhani as well. You could try an extra minute or two on low before you let it stand. Probably a minor variation between low on your stove and low on mine…

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