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  • Writer's picture Payal M.

Mum's Classic Chicken Pulao

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

So this weekend, we did quite a bit of cooking. We have not being doing much else to be honest. Just staying inside, cooking and eating I suppose. Shelter-in-place is still in effect. Plus it is getting hotter which is hard for someone like me who just moved from a mountain state to CA. Heat and allergies abound this time of the year. Fun. Anyways, my sister visited this weekend and one of the dishes we made this past weekend was my Mum's Classic Chicken Pulao. I absolutely adore this dish and used to love eating this growing up (when I was non-vegetarian). It is comfort food in a bowl to me. It is a relatively involved recipe so mum usually made this over the weekends. Which made it even more special to eat. Aside from the obvious deliciousness of the dish, this post is exciting for me as my sister and I worked together on this. Exciting!

Pulao is a rice dish where rice and meats are simmered together with a special masala mix to create a fragrant, spicy, luscious and tender rice-meat dish. The masala mix is usually freshly ground and is not the same as garam masala. Pulao is also not the same as a biryani. Pulao gets made on special occasions too and during weddings a vegetable pulao night is a must-have; we have three-four day-long weddings. I mean is it even a wedding without vegetable pulao?

The recipe is straightforward but slightly long. The chicken and rice get cooked separately at first and then they get cooked together in the final step. So I would make this when you have time to dedicate to this dish. Pulaos should not be rushed in my opinion. Uh, well this is also why it has taken me a while to write this post. Pulao blog posts should also not be rushed. Sooo…the first thing to do is to work on the meat. We used bone-in chicken pieces in this recipe but you can make this with boneless chicken pieces too (cooking times will differ). Make sure chicken is thawed, washed and drained.

The next thing to do is to grind up the spices. We buy our spices from the Indian grocery store but I think almost all of them can be bought at a regular grocery store or a specialty spice store or even online. The spices don’t have to be toasted or anything for this recipe. So first step is to grind the spices. We use a coffee grinder for this. The spices should be ground as finely as possible (break up the bigger spices before grinding). This is the pulao masala. Once this is done, we can start cooking.

Start medium pot on medium heat and heat oil. Add mustard and cumin seeds. Add onions when seeds sputter. Add garlic, ginger, chilis and curry leaves when onions begin to brown. Add garam masala and mix well. Add chicken after 1-2 minutes. Salt. Mix well.

Chicken will brown a bit and release juices. Stir every so often to prevent chicken from burning. Cook chicken until juices are cooked down and chicken is fully cooked. Turn off heat. Keep this aside. You can start on the rice while chicken is cooking or cook the chicken first and then start the rice.

Boil water for the rice. Prep and wash rice. Start large pot on medium heat. Heat up ghee and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, onions, garlic, ginger, chilis if using and curry leaves in same order as for the chicken. Also, add whole cloves, cardamom and cinnamon sticks. Cook this whole mix well for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then add cleaned rice and salt. Mix well. Let rice toast in the ghee and spices for about five minutes. Add pulao masala at this point.

Add boiled water. Let this come to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let rice cook down. Rice should be half cooked with some water still left in the pot.

When rice is half cooked, add the cooked chicken. Mix making sure the chicken and rice are fully coated in all the spices and juices. Be gentle so that the rice kernels don’t break too much and the chicken pieces stay intact.

Turn heat to low. Cover and let cook until the rice is fully cooked. There should not be any water left. You can taste at this point and adjust salt. You can also add more water and cook longer if rice is not fully cooked by this point. The end stage of this dish should be fully cooked rice with some browning occurring at the bottom. Add cilantro for garnish.

And we have now made Mum's Classic Chicken Pulao. We eat this with a basic onion-vinegar salad but this dish is perfect as is. Absolutely divine!

Let me know what you think in the comments section below!



*Pulao Masala

1/2 cup star anise

1/8 cup fennel seeds

3 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 cup diced onion

2 tbsp crushed garlic

2 tbsp crushed ginger

1 tsp crushed Thai chili

Handful of curry leaves

2 tsp garam masala

Salt to taste


3 cups cleaned and washed Basmati rice (any long grain rice should work

9 cups boiled water

3/4 cup ghee

1/4 tsp of mustard seeds

1/4 tsp of cumin seeds

1/4 cup diced onions

1 tbsp crushed garlic

1 tbsp crushed ginger

2 cloves

4 cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks

4.5 tbsp Pulao masala

Handful of curry leaves

Salt to taste

Handful of chopped cilantro


  1. Prep chicken. Thaw, wash and drain.

  2. Grind up pulao masala. Masala should be ground as fine as possible.

  3. Start on the chicken first. Heat up oil in a medium sized pot. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds.

  4. Add diced onions. Once onions begin to brown, add garlic, ginger, chilis if using and curry leaves. Stir well.

  5. After 2 minutes add chicken pieces and salt. Stir well.

  6. Turn heat on high. Let chicken brown and juices cook down. About 15 minutes. Chicken should be cooked thoroughly and very little liquid should remain.

  7. Turn heat off and keep chicken aside.

  8. While chicken is cooking, work on the rice (or this can be started after chicken has cooked).

    1. Start boiling water.

    2. Wash and prep rice.

    3. Start large pot on medium heat.

    4. Heat up ghee, add mustard seeds and cumin seeds.

    5. Add onions, garlic, ginger, chili if using and curry leaves after onion edges have browned.

    6. Add whole spices and cook for 2 minutes.

    7. Add washed rice. Add salt. Mix well and toast rice for about five minutes.

    8. Add pulao masala and mix well.

    9. Add boiled water to the rice mix. Mix well and bring to boil. Turn heat down to low and let rice cook until half-cooked.

    10. Add cooked chicken and mix well but gently.

    11. Cover and let cook until rice is completely cooked and water has cooked off. At this point, let the rice brown a bit at the bottom of the pot and develop a slight crust.

    12. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Add a bit more water at this point if rice is not cooked completely and cook until rice is done. Turn off heat.

    13. Garnish with cilantro.

  9. Serve as is or with a basic onion salad. Enjoy!


*The pulao masala recipe is a big batch recipe. Store what you don't use in an airtight container. Use within a couple of months.

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