One of the recent Cook’s Illustrated had a recipe for the perfect rice and pasta pilaf (read Rice-A-Roni™). While this dish is famously San Francisco Italian, its origin is actually Armenia. While the dish made from the box is always passably edible, trying to make it from scratch is usually a disaster—either the rice is underdone or the pasta turns into mush.
The secret that the chefs at Cook’s Illustrated discovered was to pre-soak/cook the rice. They found that if they soaked the rice in hot water for fifteen minutes, it gave the rice enough of a head start that when you added it to the pasta, they finished cooking at the same time. I suspect that the rice in the box is either precooked in some fashion—or they have found a variety of rice that cooks more quickly than most.
Note: I read Cook’s Illustrated every month, but more for the techniques than the recipes—the recipes tend to have too much salt, fat, and waste (…cook the carrots, onions and celery and then throw them out…). A recipe is just a recipe, but a technique can be adapted to create many new dishes.
The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for using vermicelli. This is a long pasta like spaghetti, but slightly thinner. Around here (the Bay Area) it is sold as “thin spaghetti” or as very thin “angel hair pasta.” Both are good substitutes, but they must be broken into one inch pieces for this dish. If you do not want to replicate the feel of Rice-A-Roni™, and spend time snapping pasta into tiny pieces, you may substitute orzo.
I am making Indian chicken meatballs for Sunday dinner. I thought I would make use Cook’s Illustrated ‘s technique to make an Indian/San Francisco rice pilaf. Their basic recipe was pretty bland, I wanted to spice it up!
After Dinner Note: My diners loved the kick of the jalapeño. This dish came out really well.
Karl’s San Francisco Pulao
1 cup basmanti rice
1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted
½ cup angel hair pasta, broken into pieces (or orzo)
3 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter), separate uses (use olive oil for Vegan)
½ cup onion, diced finely
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed finely
¼ red lentils
2 Tbs. Garam Masala, separate uses
1 tsp. ginger, grated
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. turmeric powder
1 black cardamom pod, cracked
1 star anise, whole
1 can low sodium chicken broth (14.5 oz.) (use vegetables stock for Vegan/Vegetarian)
¼ cup Greek yogurt (full fat)
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
1. Put the rice in a bowl and add 4 cups of hot, but not boiling, water.
2. Let the rice stand for 15 minutes.
3. Pour off the hot water and cover it with cold water.
4. Gently rub the grains of rice to free any surface starch and pour the rice into a large sieve.
5. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear and drain the rice a final time.
Tip: Leave the rice in the sieve over the bowl to remove any excess water.
6. Toast the cumin for 30-40 seconds in a small skillet and set it aside.
7. Melt one tablespoon of ghee in a medium pot over medium high heat.
8. Toast the pasta, stirring frequently, until well browned. Transfer the pasta to a bowl.
9. Add the rest of the ghee and sauté the onions with the salt until soft, about four minutes.
10. Add the rice to the onions, and continue cooking until the rice becomes translucent, about 3 minutes.
11. Add the jalapeño and garlic and sauté one minute more, until fragrant.
12. Add the pasta, red lentils, the toasted cumin seeds, one tablespoon of the Garam Masala, the fresh ginger, pepper, turmeric powder, cardamom, and star anise to the pot.
13. Stir in the chicken broth and bring the pot to a boil.
14. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.
15. Remove the pot from the heat and cover the pot with a dish towel. Let the pot sit for 10 minutes.
Tip: Remove the lid, lay a folded dish towel over the pot and replace the lid.
Note: This allows the rice and pasta to steam, without the moisture condensing on the lid to drip back onto the grains making them soggy.
16. Fluff the pulao with a fork and stir in one half tablespoon of the Garam Masala, the yogurt and the lemon juice.
Note: Garam Masala has many flavor components that are unstable and volatile (see Karl’s New England Boiled Dinner). Some of it should be added at the begging of cooking and the rest should be added at the end so that you get the full flavor of the spices.
17. Transfer the rice to a serving bowl and sprinkle the remaining Garam Masala over the pulao. Garnish with the chopped cilantro.