When an Italian chef makes it, it’s called risotto, when a Spanish chef makes it, we know it as paella; it’s called riz pilaf when a French chef makes it, but when an Indian chef makes it, what do we call it? “Curried rice”? What nonsense!!
How about we call it andhra chicken pulao? That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it, and trust me, it tastes even better!!
There are a lot of similarities, and of course, a number of differences between these rice dishes.
The main similarity is that they all use a technique called the ‘absorption’ method of cooking rice.
The main difference is that, except for the pulao, the other dishes have wine added to them at some stage.
We use buttermilk instead of wine. Buttermilk does the same job as wine by adding acidity to the dish.
Furthermore, in all these dishes the rice is not supposed to break (i.e. the grains must remain whole) even after it is cooked.
And herein lies the technique of making a great andhra chicken pulao!
I learnt about the making of this dish from a chef called Unnikrishnan who cooked at the Taj Residency in Bangalore.
He was a pure vegetarian and, unlike most vegetarian chefs, he would never taste his dish if it had meat in it as it was against his religious beliefs. He would cook the meat as this was his job, but as for tasting it, no!!
So, let’s start making our own andhra chicken pulao.
Step 1: Rinse the rice a few times in cold running water. Then soak it in enough water to cover. Set it aside carefully and do not move the bowl once you’ve done this as this disturbs its equilibrium and makes the rice go hard.
Step 2: Use a combination of ghee and vegetable (gingelly/Indian sesame) oil instead of using only ghee. In my restaurant we do not use ghee at all, we use unsalted butter and oil. Unsalted butter, according to Unni, instead of ghee makes the dish lighter. (I will do a blog on ghee soon as it’s a most misunderstood ingredient and really pretty difficult to use despite all appearances to the contrary!)
Step 3: In a deghchi or heavy-based pan, heat the oil and ghee (or the unsalted butter if that’s what you’re using) until it’s about to smoke. When it reaches this point, remove the pan from the heat and then add the spices which give the dish its nice, nutty aroma.
Step 4: We then add our onions which have been sliced from top to bottom in segments and not across the circumference (as we also do when making a biryani). Slicing the onions this way (from north pole to south pole rather than around the equator!) brings out the sugars and actually mashes the onions as they cook, creating a wonderful ‘onion sauce‘.
Step 5: Our skinned chicken is washed before being cut into pieces and a pinch of salt is rubbed on it and then it’s placed in the fridge; but don’t keep it in the fridge for too long as the salt draws out the moisture from the meat, making it dry.
(We don’t do this step in my restaurant as the chicken we use is very tender in the first place; salt is usually added to slightly older or tougher meat to tenderise it.)
Step 6: Once you’ve added the chicken to the pan don’t change the temperature of the dish because every time you increase the heat the meat shrinks, and when you reduce the heat, the meat relaxes. So, if you end up changing the heat of your dish a few times you’ll end up with leathery meat!
Step 7: Once the chicken is cooked along with the garlic and ginger, the buttermilk is added and then the liquid is reduced before the tomatoes are added, followed by the coconut cream.
Step 8: It’s at this stage that we add the stock and then we let our dish come to the boil and add our drained rice. Once we’ve added the rice our stirring motion should be done in a ‘gathering’ way, in a figure of ‘8’ as this prevents the rice from sticking and also breaking, just like a risotto!! You’ve now succeeded in the trickiest part of the dish and learned the best way of making a great pulao.
Step 9: We’re nearing the end of our pulao creation. So, as the steam holes start to form in the rice it’s now time to remove it from the heat. The pan is then covered with a moist cloth and placed on a hot plate, or in an oven, for about 8–10 minutes. It is then removed from the oven and the rice is ‘opened’, using a spatula, to allow it to breathe; this makes the rice swell and it also separates the grains, just as in a riz pilaf!!
So, andhra chicken pulao might not have had the caché of a risotto, paella or riz pilaf because ‘curried rice’ just doesn’t sound as elegant, does it?
But our pulao has been made this way for yonks and is just as sophisticated as its European cousins as any Indian, or your tastebuds once you’ve made it, will tell you!
Anah daata sukhi bhava!!
Click andhra chicken pulao recipe to make this at home! Good luck!