Pilaf is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth. In some cases, the rice may also attain its brown color by being stirred with bits of cooked onion, as well as a large mix of spices.
The English term pilaf is borrowed directly from Turkish, pilav, which in turn comes from Persian pilāw (پلو), and ultimately derives from Sanskrit pulāka- (पुलाक), “shriveled grain”.
Sometimes confused (especially on certain cooking shows) with risotto, it is not the same dish. To prepare a proper risotto, the rice has to be constantly stirred, while adding small amounts of liquid, allowing the rice to soak the liquid up, and then repeating until a creamy, al dente, consistency is achieved.
Sometimes chefs in busy restaurants will cut down the time in their risotto preparation, by par-cooking the rice in a pilaf style, spreading it on marble to cool, then finishing it to order, as risotto must be served immediately. Most will, however, admit that they lose some quality in the finished dish, by using this method.
Pilaf, on the other hand, is much more forgiving, and makes better leftovers.
Wild Rice & Mushroom Pilaf with Asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup wild rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 lb fresh shiitaki mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 pound asparagus tips
2 tablespoons finely grated asiago cheese
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the rice and saute, stirring often, until it begins to “toast.” Grains will begin to turn golden brown, and give off a warm, nutty aroma. Slowly add the stock, shallot, and mushrooms.
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Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add water as needed to keep the mixture from drying out (take a quick peek at the 10 & 20 minute marks).
Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces, discarding the woody stems. Stir asparagus into the rice mixture, cover and cook another 5 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and garnish generously with parsley.