Variations on the plentiful themes of versatile rice pilaf

April 22, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

"What you're looking for in a pilaf is for the grains to be very separate when they're cooked," says Mary Jo Hogue, test-kitchen manager for the U.S.A. Rice Council, a trade group.

Any kind of rice will do, she says, but the best results often come with long-grain rice, which is four to five times as long as it is wide and tends to hold up better for long cooking times. (An exception is the Turkish recipe below, which calls for short-grain rice.)

Pilafs are often one-dish meals, containing rice, vegetables and meat or fish, but they can also be meatless, for vegetarians or those abstaining from meat for religious reasons.

Almost any ingredient will work in pilaf; home cooks shouldn't be shy about making substitutions or developing their own combinations.

Cookbook author John Martin Taylor calls this rice and shrimp dish "a classic" of low-country cooking in his book, "Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking" (Bantam 1992, $24).

Shrimp pilau

Serves four to six.

4 thick slices of bacon

1 large onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 1 1/2 pounds before preparation)

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, to taste

3 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus some for garnish

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups long-grain white rice

3 cups shrimp stock (recipe below; use the heads and shells of shrimp called for here)

1 1/2 pounds shrimp or bodies from 2 pounds heads-on shrimp, peeled

In a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, cook the bacon on top of the stove until crisp. Remove bacon, set aside to drain, and pour off all the grease except about 3 tablespoons, or enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until transparent. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and parsley and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the salt, rice and stock, raise the heat for a moment or two, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat again, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes without raising the lid.

After 20 minutes, lift the lid and fluff the rice with a big fork while tossing in the shrimp. Cover the pot again and turn off the heat. The pilau will be ready in 5 to 10 minutes and the shrimp will not overcook.

Crumble the reserved bacon and garnish the pilau with it and some parsley. Serve with a tossed salad and corn bread.

Note: This dish freezes well and is delightful chilled and served as a salad or picnic item. If you are to use it later as a salad, you might stir in a cup of fresh English peas, since their season coincides with shrimp's, as you toss in the shrimp.


Makes about 2 quarts.

2 pounds fresh heads-on shrimp

1 large or two small carrots

2 celery ribs

handful of fresh herbs, such as thyme, parsley, basil, oregano and savory

1 medium unpeeled onion, quartered

3 quarts water

Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp, dropping the heads and shells into an enameled or stainless-steel stockpot. Cover the shrimp bodies with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to use later.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the stock pot and cook, uncovered, at a low boil until the onions are transparent and the stock is pleasantly infused with the shrimp flavor -- about 45 minutes. The liquid will be reduced to 2 quarts. Strain out the solids. Cool, then freeze what you don't plan to use immediately.

The next two recipes are from Copeland Mark's book "Sephardic Cooking," (Donald I. Fine Inc., 1992, $24.95.) The book includes many rice recipes from Sephardic Jewish kitchens.

The first recipe is from India. He introduces it this way: "This is a real Jewish rice, cooked by the Orthodox Jews of Calcutta. It is a complete meal of fish, rice, potatoes and onions, artfully combined and seasoned. Any gala occasion would be a good time to serve this dish."

Pilau matabak

Serves six to eight.


4 small potatoes, cut into 1/4 -inch slices

1 cup sliced onions (about 2)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon corn oil or peanut oil

1/2 cup water


1 tablespoon corn oil or peanut oil

2 cups raw rice, rinsed and well-drained

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garam marsala (see note)

3 cups water



1/2 pound fillet of sole, flounder or similar fish, cut into 2-inch cubes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon corn or peanut oil

Mix the potatoes, onions, turmeric and salt together.

Put 1 tablespoon oil in a pan, place the onions on the bottom of the pan, and cover them with the potato slices. Fry the mixture slowly over low heat for 5 minutes. Do not stir. Add the water, cover the pan, and continue to steam/fry for 15 minutes, or until the water has been completely absorbed. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan, add the rice and brown lightly over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, salt and garam marsala during the process. Add the water, stir the mixture, bring to a boil, cover, and turn heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes. Set aside.

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