How To Make Fragrant Lamb Pilau

Make this fragrant rice pilaf at home

What we love about pilau: The scented rice, also known as pilaf, is a one-pot wonder, with each ingredient playing a flavorful role in the dish as a whole. And it's the kind of homey, comforting dish we want to eat as the leaves change.

But as simple as rice may sound, pilau (see the recipe) is also relatively easy to mess up. Too many spices, and the dish is overpowering. Too much liquid, and the rice is a mushy mess.

The key to perfect pilau: Keep that lid tight. Seriously. Once you add the rice to the pot, put that lid on so the rice can absorb the liquid and get all nice and fluffy. There's another crucial step: When the rice is tender, remove the pot from the heat and place a clean kitchen towel over it. Top it with the lid again and set it aside for 10 minutes. The towel will absorb any excess moisture. No sogginess here, folks.

Here are the most important elements of a flavorful pilau:

Onions: You want to build a great base, so no matter what alliums you choose—shallots, leeks, onions—for your pilau, cook them down until they become caramel-y brown and so soft that they're almost jam-like. Just don't scorch them.

Meat: Seafood or meat isn't essential, but we browned some lamb shoulder to make the dish more of a main course. Plus, meaty juices never hurt anyone.

Spice: We love traditional spices like coriander and cumin, but for our recipe, we went with warmer autumnal spices like cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom. Get creative and make your own spice mix. Just make sure not to go overboard. For 1 cup of rice, use just 1 to 1½ teaspoons of spice mix.

Long-Grain Rice: Basmati or jasmine work best for pilau, but we especially like basmati for its delightful aroma and nutty flavor. Wash the rice thoroughly with lukewarm water, without breaking the grains, until the water runs clear. When washed properly, the fragrance of basmati becomes more pronounced.

Broth: Step away from the water and go with low-sodium vegetable, chicken or beef broth (preferably homemade). Broth infuses the rice with yet another layer of flavor. Make sure the broth is well salted; it helps to keep the rice separated during cooking. You can also add a splash of wine or beer. As always, cook with a bottle you would drink.

Finishing Touches: To brighten the dish, herbs like parsley, mint, cilantro and chives work best. Nuts, like the almonds we used, add texture and crunch. And lastly, finish the dish with a vibrant zing from orange zest.