Credit: Earl Carter

Whole roast chicken with spiced pilaf

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc, Marion, Gimlet and Supernormal. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

In essence, pilaf is rice that is cooked in a broth. Many rice-producing countries have their own version of this. The name is borrowed from the Turkish pilav.

Whenever I cook a pilaf I usually cook it with meat of some description, whether it be a joint of bird or, in this case, a whole chicken. Here, I have roasted the bird, taken the cooking juices to cook the rice, then placed the chicken in the pot to steam with the rice and take it to a point where it’s falling off the bone. Long-grain rice is my preference: it’s less likely to become a big, gluggy mess.

Served straight from the pot to the table, the pilaf can be quite a dramatic ritual. I usually sit it beside a pot of seasoned natural yoghurt and one or two vegetable dishes. Anything done with cauliflower works. Or a simple green bean salad.

It’s a great loaves and fishes recipe, too. The standard roast chicken will feed about four people – this stretches it to about eight.

Another version of this that I cook a lot at home is done in a similar way but I use cinnamon, cardamom and clove for the spices. That flavour profile takes it closer to a south Asian biryani, which is probably one of the most famous pilaf-style dishes. I love biryani, actually.


Serves 4

  • 1 size 16 chicken
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • ½ cup currants
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 leeks, white section only
  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed in cold water
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ bunch of dill washed and roughly chopped
  1. Take your chicken out of the refrigerator one hour prior to cooking.
  2. Preheat oven to 200ºC.
  3. Place the chicken on a roasting tray and massage the butter, grapeseed oil and salt into the skin and roast for 45 minutes.
  4. While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven until lightly golden (about two to three minutes).
  5. Meanwhile, pour two cups of boiling water over the currants to soften and rehydrate for half-an-hour, then strain and discard the liquid.
  6. Using a casserole dish big enough for the rice pilaf and whole chicken, warm the oil and butter and gently cook the leeks for five minutes.
  7. Add the rice and cover with three cups of water, salt and all the spices except the dill. Bring to a simmer. Now carefully add the roast chicken to the casserole dish and rest on the submerged rice. Cover the casserole with a lid and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes. Take the chicken from the casserole dish and place on a carving board. Fluff the rice, adding the toasted pine nuts, soaked plump currants, lemon juice and zest. Taste the rice for seasoning and add salt and white pepper if required.
  9. To serve, arrange the seasoned rice on a platter, carve the chicken into quarters and arrange over the rice. Finally, sprinkle the chopped dill over the chicken and rice dinner.

Wine pairing:

2016 Fairbank viognier, Bendigo, Victoria (750ml, $25)

– Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 19, 2017 as "Eat it, pilaf".

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