How to Make The Best Rice Pilau Recipe

Nothing makes a good Indian dinner into an outstanding Indian dinner to be remembered like a great rice pilau.


Pilau rice

So good with curry or on its own.

Rice pilau can be eaten with your favourite curry or simply on its own. In fact I used to make a similar rice pilau recipe all the time in my university years when I needed to eat but wanted to ensure I had enough beer money.

Nowadays, I must cook it once a week because it’s so easy and tastes great too.

There are so many amazing flavours in this rice dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I do.

By the way, just in case you’re wondering why I ended up with so much, I doubled the recipe. :-)


Making rice pilau

Infusing the saffron.

Making pilau rice

Spices sizzling in the ghee.

Making pilau rice

Fry the onion until soft and translucent.

Making pilau rice

Add the rice and saffron infused milk.

Making pilau rice

Stir it all up in the oil and cover with the water.

Making pilau rice

Cover and bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let sit undisturbed for 40 minutes.

How to Make The Best Rice Pilau Recipe
Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 250g (9 0z) Good quality Basmati Rice
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ finely chopped Spanish onion
  • 3 black cardamom pods or 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves.
  1. Pour the rice into a bowl and cover with water. With your hand, move the rice around in the water. The starch will come of the rice and the water will become milky. Pour out the water and fill the bowl with fresh water.
  2. This time, allow to sit for about a half hour.
  3. Again, move the water around with your hand until the water becomes white and milky. Pour away the white water and fill up the bowl again.
  4. Now repeat the process as many times as required until the water is clear.
  5. Pour about 3 tablespoons of milk into a cup and place in the microwave for about 25 seconds until the milk is hand hot.
  6. Put the saffron threads in the milk and set aside to infuse.
  7. In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, pour the 3 tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of the ghee. Over medium heat, fry half of the finely chopped onion until crispy. Remove the fried onion to a paper towel to dry.
  8. Now throw in the spices and the rest of the onion. Fry - adding a little more oil if needed - for about five minutes or until the onion is translucent and lightly browned.
  9. Add the rice and about 500ml of water and cover with the lid. Bring to a boil for about ten seconds and then turn off the heat. DO NOT take the lid off of the pot. Allow the rice to sit in the covered pot for 40 minutes undisturbed.
  10. Just one last step to the perfect rice pilau!
  11. Just before serving, take the lid off, add the saffron milk, the rest of the ghee and the crispy onions and lightly stir with a fork to get rid of any clumps.
  12. When cooking basmati rice, it is important to to stir too vigorously as the rice grains will split and become mushy. Be careful.
  13. I hope you enjoy this rice pilau recipes as much as my family friends and I have. It would be great to hear from you so please leave a comment if you like.

If you enjoyed my rice pilau recipe, please subscribe to my blog. I have many more recipes to come! Thank you.


The wok used to make this dish was supplied by Le Creuset. It is one of the best I’ve ever used for making rice dishes and highly recommend it. You can view their complete range here.

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  1. Anna says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been looking everywhere for this. It’s gorgeous and goes well with most Indian dishes.I’m doing it for a Tandoori chicken night.

  2. ManhattanGirl says

    Can you explain why milk is used for steep the saffron? I would think warm water would work about the same.

    • Dan Toombs says

      THat’s a first! Water would probably work but the milk makes the blend creamier. Whether you could tell in the end I don’t know. I might have to try water and see what happens.

      I often make paellas and simply add the saffron at the end to the stock. That works fine.


  3. Anna Again says

    Hi again Dan,
    Just wanted to thank you again for this wonderful recipe. I gave some leftovers to my sister and she was so impressed that she organised an Indian food themed dinner party. I was asked to make this Pilau recipe and she made Pakoras (sp?) as a swap/bribe :-) People finished off the rice quickly!
    I will be trying out more of your recipes

  4. milgan says

    hi dan, am looking forward to trying out some of your recipes, have already made the big batch of curry base….for this rice recipe when you say turn off the heat do you remove the pan from the cooker, as mine is electric and would stay hot for a while whereas a gas one would cool immediately, ty xx

    • Dan Toombs says

      Hi Milgan

      I think you’re save leaving it on the burner. The worst thing that could happen is the rice on the bottom would become crispy. The crispy rice tastes great served on top of the steamed rice.


  5. says

    I just wanted to thank you for the recipe – works very well. I also added salt to the water which really improved the flavour to my taste.

    • Dan Toombs says


      Thank you. I’m really glad you liked the recipe and were able to adjust it to your taste. Thanks for stopping by.


  6. paul leate says

    hi dan,
    the pilau rice recipe sounds great, been trying to master this for years,
    before i try this recipe could you just confirm, bring to the boil for ten seconds? as says,
    not ten minuites.?
    all the very best

    • Dan Toombs says

      Hi Paul

      10 to 20 seconds is all you need. Then you turn off the heat and let the rice steam for 40 minutes without lifting the lid. Your rice will be perfect after 40 minutes of steaming.


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