Over time, I’ve been working on perfecting my Chicken Pulao recipe. Pulao is a delicious rice dish that’s a bit less famous than biryani. Even a restaurant owner in Houston once mentioned that he had to throw away Pulao every night because people preferred biryani. However, Pulao holds a special place in my heart as I grew up in a Punjabi household where it was a frequent presence on our table.

These days, I often prepare it when I have guests over and need a festive yet simple main dish that goes well with almost anything.

History and Origin of Chicken Pulao

A delicious and fragrant rice dish called chicken pulao has a long history and origins in South Asia, notably the Indian subcontinent. It is a common ingredient in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Indian food. It is thought that the words “Pulao” and “Pilaf” came from the Persian word “pilw,” which describes a way to boil rice in a seasoned broth.

The origins of pulao can be found in ancient Persia (modern-day Iran), where the aristocracy and nobility ate it as a regal dish. It was seen as a symbol of riches and elegance due to its use of fine ingredients and fragrant spices. The craft of manufacturing pulao originated in Persia and later extended to many regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Difference between Yakhni Pulao vs. Non-Yakhni Pulao

Yakhni Pulao gets its name from “yakhni,” which means broth or stock. It’s made by simmering bone-in meat to create a flavorful broth that’s then used to cook the rice.

Without the yakhni, Pulao is a one-pot meal cooked with aromatics, protein or vegetables, whole spices, and water. For example, dishes like Matar Pulao, Chana Pulao, or Instant Pot Chicken Pulao fall into this category. The Yakhni Pulao, however, offers a deeper flavor profile, though it requires an extra 25 minutes or so.


Ingredients for Chicken Pulao

Broth (Yakhni)

  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 lb bone-in, cut-up, skinless chicken
  • 1/2 small yellow onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 medium dried bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the Pulao

  • 1 1/2 cups aged, long-grain basmati rice (about 275g)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (like grapeseed oil)
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (or substitute with butter)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 175g)
  • 1 medium dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (roughly crushed using a mortar and pestle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 piece of cinnamon stick (optional, about 1 inch)
  • 1 black cardamom (optional)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed or very finely chopped
  • 3/4 inch piece of fresh ginger, crushed or very finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 small green chili peppers (like Thai or Serrano), finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato (about 100g, I use Roma), finely chopped or roughly pureed in a food processor (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yogurt, whisked

Garnish – After Steaming (‘Dum’)

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves

Step-by-Step Instructions for Making Chicken Pulao

Step 1: Making the Broth (Yakhni)

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, put all the ingredients listed under ‘Broth (Yakhni)’ and mix. Make sure the water covers most of the meat. Cover and bring it to a boil. If you see any foam on top, remove it with a spoon.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, allowing it to simmer gently. Keep it covered and let it cook for 20 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked but not falling apart. Turn off the heat.
  3. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to take out the chicken and set it aside. Place a bowl under a strainer and strain the broth to remove onions and spices. Throw away the extra onions and whole spices. Measure the liquid; it should be about 2 3/4 cups. If not, add some water to reach that amount.

Step 2: Preparing Chicken Pulao

  1. Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear and soak it in water.
  2. Heat oil and ghee in a nonstick Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until they turn golden brown (about 10-12 minutes). The color of the pulao depends on the onions, so make sure they’re evenly golden. Pour in 1/4 cup of water to deglaze the pan. Once it dries up, add all the whole spices, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for a minute or two until it smells nice.
  3. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken and let it sear slightly, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add salt, green chili peppers, tomatoes (if you’re using them), and yogurt. Sauté gently until the oil starts to separate, which takes about 3 minutes.
  5. Pour in the broth. Taste it; it should be saltier than you prefer because it’ll mellow out once the rice is added. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Drain the rice thoroughly. When the broth comes to a boil, add the drained rice and gently stir. Bring it to a boil again.

Step 3: Steaming (‘Dum’)

  1. Cover the pot with a kitchen cloth or tea towel, sealing it tightly. Allow the pulao to steam for a few seconds; you’ll feel the steam escaping from the sides of the pan.
  2. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes without opening or stirring.
  3. Sprinkle garam masala, black pepper, cilantro, and mint. Keep it covered until you’re ready to serve. Use a rice paddle to transfer the rice to a serving tray (or your plate!). If needed, gently stir to prevent clumps. Serve with cucumber raita, mint raita, or plain yogurt. Enjoy!


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