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Chicken Pilau with Kachumbari by Chef Lesiamon

Kenyan Chicken Pilau by Chef Lesiamon is a one-pot fragrant fluffy rice dish that packs in layers of flavor. The uniqueness of this dish comes from the pilau masala: a beautiful blend of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.

Tender meat and rice is the ultimate comfort food, and you'll usually find a slightly different recipe in each household. One thing is for sure; you'll find the beloved pilau on every Kenyan holiday table and on special occasions. Chef Lesiamon pairs his pilau with kachumbari, a refreshing tomato and onion salad, which is a typical accompaniment you'll find on Kenyan dinner tables.

1 whole chicken cut into 8-10 pcs, pat dry with a paper towel


Black pepper, freshly ground

4 cups (1-1.5 liters) cold water

2 sprigs rosemary

Vegetable oil or neutral oil

1 large garlic bulb finely minced, set aside 3 whole cloves

1 stalk of leek roughly chopped

2 large onions, 1 sliced & 1 roughly diced

1/4 cup (20ml) dark soy sauce

1 medium-sized knob of ginger finely minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 large tomatoes peeled, chopped/blended

2 1/2 tablespoons pilau masala

2 cups (400g) white basmati rice cleaned and drained

The Chicken:

  1. Place a wide-based casserole dish/pot on high heat.

  2. Season chicken pieces generously with salt & crushed black pepper.

  3. Add about 30ml (3-4 Tbsp) of oil. The casserole dish/pot should be very hot at this point.

  4. Add the chicken, ensuring none of the pieces are on top of the other. Let the meat sear until a golden brown color is achieved on both sides.

  5. Lower the heat to medium, and add the roughly chopped onions, whole garlic cloves, leeks, and rosemary. Cook the vegetables for 2 minutes until they sweat (slightly translucent, with moisture on them).

  6. Cover the meat with cold water, and add soy sauce. Bring this to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-high to simmer for 10 minutes with a lid on.

  7. Pick out the chicken and strain the chicken stock into a different container. Discard the vegetables.

The Rice:

  1. In the same pot, add 5-6 tbsp oil and place over medium-high heat.

  2. Add sliced onions and sauté for 4 minutes, stirring constantly to achieve an even brown color.

  3. Add minced garlic and ginger and lower the heat, occasionally stirring for 2-3 minutes.

  4. Add pilau masala and stir well. You may need to add some oil as the spices tend to soak up all the moisture-forming lumps. A bit of oil helps cook the spices well, fully extracting their flavor.

  5. Add tomato paste and cook for 3-4 minutes, then add tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Season well with salt & pepper.

  6. Add rice and stir gently, followed by the chicken pieces and 3 1⁄2 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil, on high heat.

  7. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius / 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  8. Lower the heat to medium once the water starts to evaporate. Cover the rice with a piece of parchment/wax paper to trap in as much steam as possible, then cover the pot with its lid.

  9. Place the pot in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

  10. Loosen the rice with a fork or skewers and serve hot.


  • To make your own Pilau Masala: in a pestle and mortar or an electric spice grinder, combine: 3 large cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 3 tablespoons cardamom pods (deseeded), and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns. Blend until a powder.


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