A pilau (pronounced “pur-loo”), or pilaf, has many of the techniques of the Italian risotto, going back to the early history of Colonial rice production and has been called Southern risotto. I like mine a bit moister than many risottos, but the texture is completely up to the cook.
Whether using fresh or dried mushrooms, a bit of finagling must go on as flavors of each kind of mushrooms vary. Some people prefer a mixture of fresh and dried to intensify the flavor.
If using fresh mushrooms, remove any woody stems and clean by brushing or running quickly under cold water to remove any unwelcome debris. A good imported cheese is a must.
Southern Mushroom Pilau-Risotto
Serves 4 to 6
4 ounces fresh clean mushrooms or substitute dried (See cook’s note)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil, cook’s preference
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound Carolina Gold, arborio, or other short- or medium-grain rice
4 cups boiling chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Chop the mushrooms.Heat the butter and oil until hot. Add the onion and mushrooms, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions are transparent but not browned. Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the liquid to a boil. Stirring constantly, add 1/2 cup of the hot stock to the mushroom-rice mixture and continue to stir over medium-high heat until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice appears to be dry. Add another 1/2 cup of the stock, following the same method. Over a 20-minute period, continue this procedure, being careful not to “drown” the rice. Stirring constantly, cook the pilaf until it has reached a creamy consistency and is al dente for those who like a little “bite” or cooked until barely softened throughout for those who prefer it without the “bite.”
When the pilaf is done, stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fluff with a fork. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, and reheat in microwave.
Cook’s note: If using dried mushrooms, cover them with boiling water in a bowl or glass measuring cup. Soak for 30 minutes. Remove the plumped mushrooms with a slotted spoon. Squeeze the mushrooms to remove excess liquid. Strain and reserve the resulting liquid (broth). Roughly chop the mushrooms, remove any hard pieces, and set aside.
Conversion: 8 ounces of fresh mushrooms equals 4 ounces of dried mushrooms
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.