Candlelit Chicken Pulav

My apologies if you were expecting something romantic based on the title 🙂 Last week saw extreme flooding in Chennai when two depressions, one in the Bay of Bengal and the other in the Arabian Sea, hit the Tamil Nadu coast. There was widespread power failure – the transformer in front of my home blew spectacularly under the deluge and left us without electricity for a long time. This presented me with 2 problems

  • I had chicken in the freezer that had thawed out and would spoil if I didn’t cook it.
  • I had no electricity to power my blender, which most Indian cooking depends on. Modern Indian homes also don’t have an ammi (grinding stone) to prepare the masala.

Standing in my candlelit kitchen, I came up with this simple recipe which does not require electricity to prepare the masala.

Candlelit Chicken Pulav - Kalas Kalai

Candlelit Chicken Pulav

I grated the ginger and the garlic for the masala by hand and was very happy to note that the flavour was similar to ground masala. Despite the long procedure and list of ingredients, this is a very simple preparation that can be easily prepared with ingredients typically available in the Indian home. It also involves very little labour unlike many other pulavs. The result was a very filling and satisfying dish on a miserable day when everything else seemed to go wrong.

Pulavs and biriyanis are usually considered high energy preparations. This particular pulav is protein rich due to the chicken and the curds. The energy comes mainly from the rice and the small amount of ghee used in the preparation. It is ideal for those who watch the calories in their diet who only need to restrict their rice intake. Moreover the fewer number of spices compared to the traditional pulavs makes this suitable for those on a bland diet.


  • 3 C Basmati Rice
  • 1 Chicken (about 1 kg)
  • 3 Onions, sliced
  • 20-30 Garlic Cloves, grated
  • 10 cm piece Ginger, grated
  • 6 Green Chillies, stems removed
  • 1 ½ C Curds/Unsweetened Yoghurt, whisked
  • 1 C Mint Leaves, chopped
  • 1 C Coriander Leaves, chopped
  • 6 Cinnamon pieces
  • 6 Cloves
  • 6 Cardamoms
  • 4 Bay Leaves (birinji leaves), dry
  • ½ tsp Turmeric Powder
  • Juice of 1 small Lime
  • 4 T Ghee (clarified butter)
  • 5 T Salt or to taste
  • 4 ½ C Water at boiling temperature


  1. Skin and cut the chicken into medium sized pieces.
  2. Wash the basmati rice and drain in a colander.
  3. Heat the ghee in a large, heavy based pan.
  4. Add the dry spices (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves) except the turmeric powder.
  5. When the cloves begin to splutter, add the onion and the green chillies and fry till tender.
  6. Add the mint and the coriander leaves, and fry for a minute.
  7. Add the grated ginger and garlic and fry till a pleasant aroma arises. Sprinkle a little water to prevent scorching.
  8. Add the chicken pieces and turmeric powder. Mix till all the pieces are coated with the masala.
  9. Fry on high heat till the chicken changes colour.
  10. Add the whisked curds and 2 tsp of salt. Mix.
  11. Bring to boil and cover. Lower heat and cook till the chicken is done.
  12. Add the basmati rice and blend till all the grains are coated with the masala.
  13. Add the boiling water and the lime juice and rest of the salt.
  14. Cover tightly, lower heat, and cook till the rice grains are fluffy and tender.
  15. Once done, remove from heat. Remove the green chillies.
  16. Serve with thayir pachadi (raita).


  1. It is important to keep the water at boiling point while adding to the rice. In this way the boiling point of the mixture will be reached very quickly and that is essential to get fluffy rice grains.
  2. I do not slit the chillies but use them whole to prevent the seeds from escaping into the pulav and making it very hot. I also remove the chillies once the pulav is done for the same reason. This gives a very subtle flavour. If you want it spicy you can leave the chillies in the dish.

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