Chicken Pilau Recipe (Pakistani Style)

Chicken pilau is one of the classic chicken and rice dishes. It’s a delicious comfort food with a well-balanced spices aroma. It’s a rice dish that has a special place among Pakistani and Indian cuisines.

Chicken Pilau Rice

What is chicken pilau rice?

Chicken pilau rice – aka chicken pulao rice – is a rice dish cooked in spiced chicken stock. It is a comfort food that is often enjoyed at gatherings on any occasion.

Celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, Eid, and graduations are only a few examples. More often than not, this dish is an option for dinner parties with family and friends.

When you try this rice, you’ll know why. Because it has a heartwarming flavor that tastes satisfying as a standalone menu. Yet, it complements other side dishes when put together among the feast spread.  

Maybe it is the savory chicken broth with the aromatic spices that makes it delicious.  

Pilau rice is almost always a must-have item on the menu for special occasions that every Pakistani household will definitely have to be able to cook and serve for their loved ones. Therefore, this chicken pulao rice was the first rice recipe that I learned.

Having said that, nowadays people cook and eat this rice and chicken dish anytime. Myself included. I make for a weeknight dinner at times. So you don’t have to wait for a special occasion as an excuse to make this recipe. 

chicken pilau rice with overlay text

Pakistani Chicken Pilau

My husband and his family are Pakistanis who were born and grew up in Kenya, Africa. Even though their way of cooking is pretty much based on authentic Pakistani style, there might be differences in how the Pakistanis in Pakistan cook. 

So this chicken pulao recipe that I’m sharing here might as well be classified as Kenyan chicken pilau. Meaning it’s the Pakistani recipe of pilau rice cooked in chicken stock by the Pakistanis living in Kenya. Well, at least used to live in Kenya :-).

Anyhow. I must tell you that this is a secret family recipe that will no longer be a secret. And you can even learn a trick or two from me so that you can make a delicious pilau right from the start.

This is a very easy recipe that you can follow. Promise you will get a flavorful chicken and rice dish at the end of cooking.

A little history chat. You might know that pilau rice itself originates from the Persian (Iran) pilaf recipe. It spread to the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, South East Asia, and all the way to  Africa. 

Therefore you will come across similar dishes with varied names. You find Kabsa in the Middle East, Plov in Azerbaijan, Kabuli pulao in Afghanistan, Nasi Kebuli in Indonesia, etc. All these dishes are rooted in a great recipe of rice pilaf. Amazing, isn’t it? How the food and culture travel beyond the boundaries. 

Pakistani rice dishes

There are a few different pulao rice in Pakistani dishes, lamb pilau rice and yakhni mutton pulao.

If you need more recipe ideas for rice, you can try this classic chicken biryani or the contemporary chicken tikka biryani

Don’t forget to try the vegetarian Matar Chawal (rice and green peas pulao), or vegetable pilau

And if you love lamb (like me), you can try lamb biryani or lamb pilau. 

Quite Simple Ingredients

You need three types of ingredients for this one-pot chicken pulao, i.e.: rice, chicken, and whole spices.

For the rice, it is imperative to use basmati rice. Because other types of rice such as short-grain, long-grain, Thai rice, etc. will not taste the same. They can go either mushy or hard and chewy.

There are many brands of basmati rice. I have tried numerous ones. Some are good, and some are okay. But recently I’ve been kind of hooked on Badshah

And when it comes to chicken, I use baby chicken with bone and cut it into small pieces. Because I find it more flavorsome than the large poultry.

You can use boneless chicken thighs too. However, the poultry tends to get dryer and doesn’t give much flavor to the broth. I suggest avoiding using boneless chicken breast, as it will be so dry and tasteless like cardboard. 

As for the spices, you will need whole black peppercorns, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, whole cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole black cardamom, onion,  ginger root, and garlic cloves. 

Additionally, you will need a little bit of cooking oil to fry the onion. Needless to say, you will need salt as well. 

How to make chicken pilau rice

Cooking on stovetop

It is pretty straightforward to make this chicken pulao. It’s like a one-pot dish kind of thing. However, you will have to make the chicken broth first. And then cook the rice in it. It’s sort of a one-pot chicken dish really.

First, wash, rinse, and soak rice in plenty of water. 

Then, fry the sliced onions until they turn light golden. Add the whole spices and cook further until the onions become golden brown. You can fry the onion even darker if you like your pilau rice to be browner. 

chopped onion and whole spices
browning the onion and spices

Next, add the chicken and continue frying until the poultry becomes firm and opaque in color. Add the whole onion and hot boiling water (from the kettle). Cover the pot and bring to a boil at medium heat. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for at least 40-45 minutes to cook the chicken.

frying chicken pieces in spices
browning the chicken pieces and whole onion in spices

When the stock is ready, sieve and pour the liquid into a clean cooking pot. Make sure you have about 3¾ cups (900 ml) of stock to cook the rice. 

Discard the spices, onion, ginger, garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Then carefully remove the chicken pieces and put them back into the stock. You may find chicken meltingly tender. 

sieve the chicken stock
steaming the rice in the pan
ready cooked chicken pilau rice

Now drain the rice and add the rice into the broth. Cook it at medium heat until all the liquid evaporates. You can gently stir the rice every now and again to help the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Once the liquid evaporates, wrap a tea towel over the pan lid and put the lid on the pan. Turn the heat down and cook further until steam comes out of the lid.

Check if the rice is cooked. If it is, fluff the rice with a fork so the grains don’t stick to each other.

Using a rice cooker

If you want to cook your pilau in a rice cooker, follow the recipe steps until you finish making the chicken stock.

Then drain the soaked rice and put it in the rice cooker bowl. Pour 3¾ cups (900 ml) of stock and cover the cooker. Press and start the cooking time. 

Cooking in the instant pot

Another way to make this pilau rice is by using an instant pot. Prepare the chicken stock and soak the rice. Then you put the rice followed by 2½ cups (600 ml) of the stock and chicken pieces in the bowl of the IP.

Cover the IP with its pressure cooker lid. Press the pressure cook button with 4 minutes of cooking time, and start. Once the cooking is finished, let the steam finish manually through the venting button. It takes approximately 5-6 minutes. If it doesn’t, you can release the steam by pressing the venting button.

When all the steam is fully released and it is safe for you to open the lid, take the lid off.

By all means, please refer to the manual if you are not sure. And also note that the amount of liquid we use less liquid for cooking in this cooking gadget. This is because we pressure cook it. If we put more stock, the rice may become too soft or even soggy. 

Top Tips For Making The Best Tasting Pilau Rice

  • The secret of a delicious recipe for good pilau lies in the proportion of each spice, the savory of the stock, and the amount of stock used.
  • As I mentioned above, your cooked rice grains should be fluffy and not broken or mushy. So make sure you put the right amount of stock and keep an eye on the rice while it is cooking. Stir the rice carefully so you will not break it. 
  • You may find your pilau rice that looks pale in color or slightly darker brownish-looking. Both are equally good in taste. This color of the rice is achieved by browning the onion lighter or darker. I personally prefer brown pilau as I find it has a better aroma and tastes more savory. To do this, you will have to take care of the onion and keep stirring while you’re frying. So it will evenly cook. 
  • To cook Basmati rice, you need 1 ½ cups of water for every 1 cup of rice. This is a basic guideline for you to cook pilau rice as well. In case you want to multiply the rice ratio. So when you finish making the stock, you can sieve it and measure it to know how much stock it yields.
  • For this recipe, we need about 3 ¾ cups of stock. So you can add or take away the broth you make if it is less or more than what you need, which is 3 ¾ cups. 
  • Similar to making good broth, the longer you cook meat and bone for making stock the better its flavor will become. This also applies to making the stock for pilau rice. Though I say it takes approximately an hour for me to boil the broth, you’re more than welcome to do it longer so the chicken releases more of its goodness. If you’re in a hurry, simmer the stock for at least 40-45 minutes.

What to serve chicken pilau rice with

Below are recipes that typically go with this pilau rice in a food spread.

I hope you are now thinking of trying the recipe. If you do so, it would be great if you could share what you think about this delicious chicken pilau rice in the comments below (leave a reply). 

And please follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest to sneak a peek at what’s cooking in my kitchen. 

Thank you and all the best.

Chicken pilau recipe card

Chicken pilau rice Pakistani style
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4.90 from 58 votes

Chicken Pilau Rice

Chicken Pilau Rice is delicious to enjoy as is. But you can indulge yourself more by having the rice with a few curries on the side.
Author: Devy Dar
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Pakistani
Servings: 6


  • Chopping board
  • Kitchen knife
  • Cooking pan with lid.
  • Sieve


  • 2 ½ cups basmati rice.
  • 5 small-sized brown onions.
  • 1.8 pounds chicken, equal 1 baby chicken or 4 pieces of chicken thighs, cut in pieces.
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds.
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds.
  • 20 whole cloves.
  • 3 black cardamoms.
  • 2 bay leaves.
  • 2- inches cinnamon stick.
  • 1 ½ teaspoons whole black pepper.
  • 4 cloves of garlic peeled.
  • 1- inch ginger peeled.
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt.
  • 4 cups water.
  • ¼ cup oil.


  • Wash and rinse the rice. Then soak it in plenty of water. Set aside.
  • Peel the onions and chop 4 of them. In a cooking pan or a stock pot heat the oil and fry the chopped onions with the whole cumin seeds and whole coriander seeds.
  • When the onions become translucent, add in the cloves, cardamoms, black pepper, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Cook further until the onions turn golden brown. 
  • Then add the salt, the remaining whole onion and the chicken pieces. Give a stir and let the poultry cook until it turns opaque in colour.
  • Pour the water in the chicken, let it boil and simmer at low heat. It takes me an hour to make the stock. 
  • By now, the rice will have expanded a little bit and turned white opaque in colour. Drain the rice. Set aside.
  • Sieve the stock into a large cooking pan and discard the ginger, garlic, bay leaves, and all the whole spices. Carefully pick the chicken pieces and put them back into the stock. 
  • Let the stock boil again. Once it gets to the boiling point, put the rice in it and cook at moderate-high heat until all the water evaporates. Take care throughout the process by stirring the rice every now and then. But make sure not to break the grains.
  • Cover the pan lid with a tea towel and put it on the pan. Turn the heat down and further cook at low heat until the steam comes out. 


Serving: 1g | Calories: 480kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 125mg | Sodium: 739mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g


Nutritional info in this recipe is only estimate using online calculator. You should refer to it as a guide only. Please verify with your own data if you seek an accurate info.

Author: Devy Dar

Title: Food Writer, Recipe Developer, and Digital Content Creator.


Devy Dar founded So Yummy Recipes and Drizzling Flavor to share her love of food after exploring various cultures and cuisines for more than two decades. Her mission is to help others easily recreate traditional and non-traditional food with readily available ingredients. Her works have been featured in Reader’s Digest, Al Jazeera, MSN, Yahoo, Bon Appetit, and more. 

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  1. I love this recipe. The combination of flavors, of spices, is just genius. Thanks for a delicious addition to my cooking repertoire!

  2. Jeanne @ Cooksister says:

    This looks delicious – like a bowl of fragrant comfort food perfect for dull January days! A friend gave me a delicious recipe for Afghani lamb pulau and I would love to try your recipe and see how they compare. So interesting that the dish stands or falls by the texture of the rice!

    1. I think you’ll love both. I do. As both have similarities with their own uniqueness.

  3. I’m always looking for new rice recipes and this looks SO delicious. Thanks!

  4. Such a great dinner staple to have at the table. It goes perfectly with so many dishes and is delicious!

  5. Kushigalu says:

    How flavorful and delicious os this pilaf recipe. I would love to make this for dinner soon . Thanks for sharing

  6. When do you put the boiled chicken in the cooked rice?
    Thank you for this recipe

    1. Hi, thank you for your reminder and apologies for the missing info. I have amended the recipe card. So, basically you put chicken in the stock together before you reboil the stock. Happy cooking.

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