Rice Pilaf is about to become your holiday worthy, favorite easy, side dish that that goes with practically everything!
Rice Pilaf is one of my favorite side dishes EVER! It’s a delectable one-pot wonder boasting fluffy, toasted rice and orzo cooked with onions and celery in herb infused chicken stock – on your table in 35 minutes! It’s wonderfully flavorful, simple, and 1000X times better than the boxed variety. This Rice Pilaf recipe is also extremely versatile – customize it to your tastes or cuisine with different seasonings or add-ins such as peas, carrots, raisins, almonds, etc. No matter how you mix it up, this no-fail Rice Pilaf recipe is guaranteed to become one of YOUR favorite recipes!
Rice Pilaf Recipe
Everyone should have a delectable rice pilaf recipe up their sleeve and this is it! I am obsessed. It has to be one of the best rice recipes ever – and you know I love my rice. From Greek Lemon Rice, Cilantro Lime Rice, Mexican Rice, Parmesan Risotto, Coconut Cashew Rice, Pineapple Rice and on and on, I could live off of rice; but if I had to pick a favorite rice to eat the rest of my life – this Rice Pilaf recipe is it!
This Rice Pilaf recipe is packed with flavor from the aromatics, toasted rice and orzo, and herb infused broth AND it’s the ideal palate pleasing texture of soft, fluffy rice and al-dente orzo. It just doesn’t get any better my friends EXCEPT that the recipe uses pantry friendly ingredients and is SO easy to whip up!
In fact, I think you’ll find yourself making this Rice Pilaf recipe weekly – if not more – because it’s not only a simple upgrade to boring rice, but your entire family will love it and it goes with everything!
It’s the answer to the dreaded question “What should I make?” to go with dinner because it goes with chicken, shrimp, steak,, etc. AND it is a chameleon when it comes to seasonings so you can switch up the flavor profile and make it Asian, Cajun, Indian, etc. (ideas included in post) because once you know how to make basic Rice Pilaf, it, it is SO easy create your own versions!
You can even dress it up for Thanksgiving simply by adding pomegranates or craisins, a little orange zest and swapping the sliced almonds for toasted pecans OR you can enjoy it in its simplicity because this Rice Pilaf recipe is Thanksgiving worthy just as written.
What is Rice Pilaf?
Rice Pilaf refers to both the method of cooking and the end result of that cooking method. The end result is textured, fluffy, seasoned rice that is 1000x better than just boiling rice and adding seasonings.
The method involves first sautéing diced onion in butter and oil, then adding uncooked rice to toast with the aromatics. The purpose of sautéing the rice is twofold: 1) it infuses the rice with nutty, buttery flavor and 2) it develops a toasted coating that produces firmer, more individual grains and less sticky rice when cooked. The rice is then cooked in stock (chicken, meat or seafood) until the liquid is absorbed.
Rice Pilafs can be as simple as onions, garlic, rice, broth and seasonings, or they can be a mix of rice with pasta such as orzo (what we use in this Rice Pilaf recipe), broken pieces of vermicelli and even lentils. The addition of pan toasted orzo mirrors the popular boxed variety and is a MUST for the best Rice Pilaf in my book.
Rice Pilaf can also be made with various vegetables such as peas, diced celery, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, etc., as well as various add-ins such as raisins, or nuts. I personally, love the addition of peas and sliced almonds to amp up the flavors and textures, but you can add whatever you wish to make it YOUR favorite Rice Pilaf!
In short, Rice Pilaf is a wonderfully customizable toasted rice cooked in stock for an explosion of tantalizing texture and flavor!
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICE AND RICE PILAF?
The main difference between “rice” and “rice pilaf” is the cooking technique. Rice is typically cooked in boiling water without any flavorings added. Rice Pilaf, by definition, is sautéed with aromatics before cooking in broth to create seasoned rice with more defined rice grains.
WHAT IS THE BEST RICE TO USE FOR RICE PILAF?
For this easy Rice Pilaf recipe, you will want to use a long grain white rice. My personal favorite for Rice Pilaf is fragrant, fluffy, flavorful Jasmine rice. I have also tried it with basmati rice, but it gave it more of an Indian flair which is not what I was going for.
Jasmine rice is a type of long-grain white rice. You can easily purchase it at your grocery store next to the other varieties of rice. Jasmine rice is fragrant like popcorn, moist, and soft with a slightly sweet flavor. You will not be disappointed if you choose jasmine rice!
Ingredients for Rice Pilaf
In addition to rice, you will need these pantry friendly ingredients to make Rice Pilaf:
- Orzo pasta: MAKES a huge difference between okay Rice Pilaf and AMAZING rice pilaf so I highly encourage you not to skip! Orzo is a short-cut pasta, shaped like a long grain of rice adds a delightful texture to this Rice Pilaf. If you do skip the orzo and replace it with rice, the ratio of liquid to rice will be off because orzo requires more water.
- Butter: use unsalted butter so we can control the level of salt. You can also add extra butter at the end of cooking if you’re feeling on the wild side.
- Olive Oil: use a high-quality olive oil for the best flavor. The oil also helps the butter to not burn.
- Onion: one medium yellow onion will do the trick but you can also substitute with shallots but the flavor will be milder.
- Celery: is optional but adds a depth of flavor and texture.
- Garlic: is a must! Use more or less depending on how much you love garlic.
- Chicken stock: I recommend quality chicken stock but quality chicken broth will also work.
- Chicken bouillon: is my secret flavor weapon. You can use powder or better than bouillon.
- Seasonings: a bay leaf, dried parsley, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper are added to the broth then absorbed by the rice for flavor in every bite. No bland Rice Pilaf here!
- Peas: petite frozen peas please. There is something about peas and rice together that is so satisfying I can’t get enough!
- Almonds: sliced almonds are the perfect size to add texture without being overpowering. You can also swap them for cashes, pecans, etc. but I think every Rice Pilaf should have some sort of crunch.
Is Rice Pilaf Gluten Free? This recipe as written is not gluten free because it contains orzo pasta. You can substitute the past for gluten free orzo. If you substitute with rice, reduce the stock by 1/4 cup.
Is Rice Pilaf vegan? To make vegan Rice Pilaf, replace the butter with olive oil, the chicken stock with vegetable stock and omit the chicken bouillon.
How to make Rice Pilaf
As previously discussed, Rice Pilaf is more of a method of cooking verses an actual recipe with all of the same ingredients. Instead, there are four essential steps to making a good rice pilaf: thoroughly rinsing the rice, sautéing the aromatics with the rice, toasting the orzo and the rice before adding liquid, and allowing the Rice Pilaf to rest. It might sound complicated, but it is actually very simple! Here’s a breakdown of the process:
Step 1: Toast Orzo and Sauté Aromatics
- Melt butter in olive oil in a nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add orzo, onions and celery; sauté 3 minutes stirring often. This gives the orzo a head start in the cooking process because it takes longer to cook than rice.
- Sautéing the aromatics unleashes an unparallel flavorful base that the entire Rice Pilaf is built upon. It is the reason Rice Pilaf is one of the most flavorful rice dishes.
Step 2: Toast Rice
- Add rice and cook an additional 3-5 minutes or until orzo is deeply golden and onions are softened. Add garlic and stir for one minute.
- Toasting the rice with the onions not only infuses it with aromatic flavors but helps develop the wonderfully nutty flavor.
- More importantly, toasting the rice helps the grains keep some of their texture after they are cooked. After toasting your rice, don’t worry that the rice doesn’t look like it’s toasted evenly, we are just looking for some of the rice to be toasted indicating that that the flavor is developed
Step 3: Add broth and seasonings
- Add chicken broth, bay leaf chicken bouillon, dried parsley, dried oregano, dried thyme, red pepper flakes salt and pepper.
- The seasonings cook in the broth, infusing it with flavor as the rice soaks up all that yummy goodness.
Step 4: Cook Rice
- Cover pot and increase temperature to high. As soon as rice is simmering, reduce to LOW and cook for 10 minutes. Stir, replace lid and cook an additional 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
- Your rice will continue to cook once we add the peas so it doesn’t need to be perfectly al dente at this point.
Step 5: Add Peas & Let Rest
- Add peas to pot, and fluff to combine with a fork.
- Replace the lid, and let the rice sit for 10 more minutes – don’t peak!
- Letting the rice rest for 10 minutes not only cooks the peas perfectly but it yields a fluffier Rice Pilaf, giving the rice time to firm up.
Step 6: Final touches
- Remove lid, add almonds or any other desired add-ins (see my suggestions below).
- Taste and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Garish with freshly chopped parsley if desired.
- Serve warm.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST RICE PILAF RECIPE
- Rinse and drain rice thoroughly: rice contains a lot of starch which will cause the rice to stick together and can even make it mushy once cooked. To eliminate the mushy problem, it is crucial to remove the extra starch from the rice by rinsing it with cool water in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear – don’t shortcut this process!
- Use a nonstick pan. It is essential your pan is nonstick because the rice will soak up all the liquid, evaporating the protective barrier between the rice and the pan.
- Sauté rice until toasted: toasting the rice adds another dimension of rich, complex, nutty flavor. It also coats the rice in a protective toasted shell which helps them remain individual grains and not clump.
- If liquid evaporates before rice is done: then add just a little liquid, keeping in mind that the rice will continue to steam for 10 minutes once it’s removed from heat, so it doesn’t need to be 100% cooked once liquid is gone.
- If rice is still wet: don’t worry, it will continue to absorb the 10 minutes while it is steaming. When you remove the lid after 10 minutes, you can let the rice sit an additional 5-10 minutes to dry out.
- Let it steam: don’t shortcut the 10-minute steaming process as it gives the rice time to finish cooking and firm up which in turn, makes it fluffier.
- Use a fork to fluff the rice: instead of a spoon or a spatula because the tines help separate the rice grains whereas a spoon can mash or break the grains.
- Salt and pepper to taste: rice soaks up salt so if you feel like your Rice Pilaf is missing something- it is probably salt. I add additional freshly cracked salt and pepper to my rice be sure you taste your rice first before seasoning!
- Make it YOUR Rice Pilaf: keep your Rice Pilaf as simple or as adventurous as you would like when it comes to add-ins.
Rice Pilaf Recipe VARIATIONS
This recipe is for more classic Rice Pilaf featuring minced onion, garlic, celery, peas and almonds, but it is SO versatile. Make it your own by swapping out spices, adding protein, veggies, currants, etc. to make it YOUR favorite rice pilaf!
Swap the seasonings
You can swap the more Italian seasonings with other favorites for more exotic Rice Pilaf. For example:
- Make Thanksgiving rice pilaf by adding a touch of orange zest, cinnamon, craisins or pomegranate seeds and swapping the almonds for roasted pecans.
- Make Greek rice pilaf by stirring in 2–4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, lemon juice to taste (1-2 tablespoons) and ¼ cup feta.
- Make Indian rice pilaf by adding curry powder, coriander, turmeric, and/or cinnamon. Fennel would also be a welcome addition. You can also add raisins or cashews.
- Another exotic favorite Rice Pilaf combo is to add cinnamon, mint and pistachios.
Add fresh herbs
Fresh herbs always enliven a dish and, in this case, can change the flavor profile. Think about adding:
Chicken stock is readily available and will give you the classic taste, but you can also swap it for:
- Seafood stock
- Beef stock
- Vegetable stock
Rice pilaf can instantly become a meal-in-one by adding protein. For an easy dinner, consider adding:
- Ground turkey
- Ground beef
- Italian sausage
- Shredded rotisserie chicken
- Chopped Chicken
- Salmon/other fish
Add More veggies
You can swap the celery and peas for your favorite veggies or add additional veggies. You’ll want to sauté longer cooking vegetables like carrots and broccoli with the orzo, shorter cooking vegetables like zucchini and bell peppers with the rice and of course add spinach at the very end of cooking.
- bell peppers
- Frozen vegetable medley: Like the frozen peas, you can use a frozen, corn/carrot/pea medley and stir them into your rice after it has cooked but before you recover and let the pot sit 10 minutes.
Swap nuts or seeds
I love Rice Pilaf with CRUNCH! This easy Rice Pilaf recipe use slivered almonds (my fav for this), but most nuts or seeds will work great:
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
Add currants or Pomegranate Arils
I love sweet pops in my savory sides such as:
- Chopped dried apricots
- Pomegranate seeds: especially festive for Thanksgiving!
Cheese makes everything better! Try stirring in some Parmesan cheese for an Italian flair or feta for more of a Greek flair. Reduce the amount of salt if you know you are going to be adding cheese.
HOW DO I STORE RICE PILAF?
- Refrigerate: Let Rice Pilaf cool to room temperature then transfer to a tightly covered airtight container or to several small containers for meal prep. Store in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
- Freezer: Rice Pilaf can also be frozen. Take care to let the rice cool completely before transferring to a freezer bag (recommended) or freezer-safe airtight container. If using a bag, squeeze out as much excess air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Label and freeze for up to 3 months. Let Rice Pilaf thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in the microwave or stove as directed.
HOW TO REHEAT LEFTOVER RICE Pilaf
Rice Pilaf stores beautifully! The extra time allows the flavors to build and meld even further.
- Microwave: For small portions, microwave Rice Pilaf in a microwave safe container with a couple teaspoons water for 60-90 seconds or until warmed through.
- Stove: For larger portions, transfer Rice Pilaf to a nonstick skillet along with a dash of water or chicken broth. Heat over medium heat, stirring often until warmed through.
Looking for more side dish recipes?
- Mushroom Orzo
- Butternut Squash Risotto
- Smashed Potatoes
- Glazed Carrots
- Garlic Bread
- Green Bean Salad
- Twice Baked Potatoes
- Macaroni and Cheese
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