Lamb Pilau / Pulao has been hugely amiss on this blog since the start. It’s hands down my most frequently cooked dish and honestly a household favourite! Now with our little 2 year old girl a solid part of our family dinner table, this aromatic, comforting meal has been cemented into our weekly rotation since she enjoys it so much too!
This recipe is an easy spin on the traditional Yakhni Pilau / Pulao, which is the method I’ve used in my Chicken Pilau recipe here. In the traditional recipe, you simmer the meat, aromatics and whole spices into a stock until they are cooked before sifting out the whole spices and proceeding to separately brown onions, adding the meat and then the stock from the initial simmering stage, before adding the rice and steaming till cooked. I have used this method for a long time
However, this method takes time and my biggest issue is, it takes up a lot of my kitchen utensils! You use two pots – one for the simmering of the stock and one for the browning/steaming, and you also need a colander to sift out the whole spices. Whenever I would venture into the kitchen for a Pilau dinner, my kitchen sink would be overflowing! And not to mention the pain of having to separate the meat from the whole spices which would usually be clinging on!
Eventually, I decided that I really shouldn’t need to be doing this every time I want to make a chicken or lamb Pilau, which is often! Since beginning to make my Pilau this way, I have honestly found that…
1) I am making NO compromises on flavour. The whole spices which infuse their beautiful aroma into the Pilau get the same amount of simmer time in this method as the original method, therefore we are NOT skimping on flavour
2) I save SO much time and effort with this method. Before, deciding to make a Pilau would honestly mean I would be embarking on a small mission. Now, a Pilau is a dinner I can start up easily knowing I’m only going to be using one pot and minimal effort
3) I ENJOY making Pilau so much! The ease of it adds such an element of joy, knowing how good it is going to turn out without needing to go through so much hassle of sifting everything out and picking out the whole spices. If you’ve made Pilau the traditional way, you will know the sifting seriously isn’t the most fun thing to do!
Now, how do we get our Lamb Pilau to become a one-pot wonder?
It’s actually a no-brainer! So simple, but a complete game changer!
You use a muslin cloth to wrap your whole spices in! You make a little potli as we say in Urdu, a little packet tied up, filled with all your whole spices and add that in during the yakhni (broth) making process. The muslin cloth allows the flavours to be released into our yakhni without having to deal with the whole spices. Once you add your rice, you can remove the muslin potli, after squeezing out all the flavour you possibly can of course, and wallah! We have a one-pot Pilau all ready to go with as minimal effort as it gets!
In my eyes, the best thing about a Lamb Pilau is that the juices and hearty flavour from the lamb compliment the aromatic, moreish spices so beautifully. As a personal preference, I favour a Lamb Pilau always above a Chicken Pilau – there’s just something so comforting about juicy cuts of lamb in the most fragrant and spiced rice.
Another thing I love about Pilau is just how forgiving it is. If you don’t have a certain spice on hand there is no compulsion to have to use it. You can certainly omit certain spices if you don’t have them to hand – it is totally understand if one doesn’t have all these spices in their whole form. Of course, that isn’t to say you should purposely omit any of the whole spices in this recipe, or to say they don’t make a difference. It is a combination of all these flavours and spices that meld together to create this perfect meal. I personally feel like a Pilau is incomplete without cumin, black pepper, coriander seeds and cinnamon. Cloves and both kinds of cardamom, though used in a small quantity, do make an impact on the overall flavour and I don’t make my Pilau without them. At most, I will leave out the bay-leaf or star anise if I don’t have them to hand.
Additionally, I have seen people add fresh green chilli to their Pilaus too – I have never done this and I feel like a Pilau should not have any heat to it. I feel Pilau should be mild and easy-going, something different to its show-off cousin, Biryani. However, if you do like your Pilau with a slight bit of heat, feel free to add in a couple of fresh green chillis to your yakhni. My in-laws love spicy food and I remember clearly they added 18 – yes, 18! – sliced green chillis into their Pilau which was made with 4 cups of rice! Absolutely heinous for me – but whatever feels fit for yourself!
On a final note, I would like to say if you don’t have a muslin cloth, then you can certainly add the whole spices to your yakhni directly and fish them out afterwards using a slotted spoon, as the whole spices do have a tendency to float to the top. This is a slightly laborious method and won’t result in having removed all the whole spices. I have done this before and whilst I managed it, it wasn’t the best and it probably would have been easier to sift them out with a colander like in the traditional method.
Alternatively, you can grind the spices into a powder and add them at the same time you add the ginger/garlic in step 2. I do not personally like this method as I find the spices leave a grainy feel on the rice and they also darken the rice into an unattractive peppery shade. Ideally, however, you should use a muslin cloth (or any clean cloth with permeability will do too)
So, without further ado, my favourite meal ever. Serve up alongside a simple side of yogurt whisked with a sprinkle of salt or your favourite raita. A salad also does wonders!
Enjoy, with love x
- 4 tbsp oil
- 3 onions, sliced
- 10 cloves garlic
- 1.5 tbsp freshly grated garlic
- 750 grams lamb, bone in
- 2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
- 4 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 finger-sized piece whole cinnamon
- 2.5 cups white basmati rice, soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes
Whole Spices for the Muslin Cloth (Potli)
- 2.5 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- 2.5 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 bayleaf
- 10 green cardamoms
- 3 black cardamoms
- 5 whole cloves
- 0.5 star anise
- In a deep pot, heat the oil and add the sliced onions. Fry these, ensure you stir so they are evenly browning
- Once the onions have become translucent, soft and are beginning to show a golden colour, add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds. Fry for a few moments
- Add the lamb. Ensure the lamb is completely dry, otherwise the lamb won't brown as well. Fry the lamb alongside everything else, stirring to ensure nothing is burning and everything it browning evenly
- Once the lamb has browned to your liking, add your muslin cloth with all the whole spices wrapped and tied into it, the cinnamon stick, salt and 5.5 cups of water. I keep the cinnamon stick out of the muslin cloth as I like the fragrance it gives the rice, which intensifies as it sits
- Bring a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 45 minutes
- Once the broth has been cooked, check the salt. Your broth should have a slightly too-salty taste
- Add in the pre-soaked rice. You'll need to check there is enough water - the way I do this is I put my finger in so the tip of my finger touches the rice. The water should be coming up to the first line on my finger. If there is too little, add some more water in till it reaches that level. If there is too much, scoop a bit out using a cup. I personally find the quantity of water I've stated in step 4 to be sufficient water and I don't need to add any more, but it is best to check yourself
- Cook this on high, scraping one or twice from the sides to ensure the rice isn't sticking to the pot. Do this carefully ensuring you do not break the rice
- Once the water has mostly been absorbed but the rice still looks moist, cover with a tight lid and turn the heat down to the lowest possible heat. Steam this for 20 minutes
- Finally, fluff up with a fork or spoon carefully and allow to rest again for at least 10 minutes before serving
Pilau is often garnished with fried onion, as shown in the images. Two fried onions for garnishing purposes should suffice for 3 cups of rice