Pulao, or pilaf, is a delicately flavored rice dish popular in Pakistani and Indian cooking. This Instant Pot Chicken Pulao recipe requires just 25 minutes of prep time and results in tender boneless (or bone-in) chicken and perfectly cooked rice.
What is Chicken Pulao?
Pulao may not be as famous as biryani, but it holds significance just the same. I remember whenever my mom made it, I’d stand over the stove sneaking just one bite before dinner, and then another, and another. Meat, rice, and aromatic whole spices all woven together so beautifully to create a magnificent composition. It’s utterly satisfying.
This Instant Pot Chicken Pulao is a weeknight version of the more elaborate yakhni pulao, in which meat is slowly simmered to create a stock (yakhni) which is used to cook the rice. That’s not to say you’re missing out on the flavors of classic pulao. The techniques here are still the same – deeply brown onions, seared meat, and rice perfumed with whole spices.
Using Bone-in or Boneless Chicken for Pulao
For this recipe, I use chicken thighs or chicken tenders – the little strips of meat attached to the underside of the chicken breast. If you don’t have them, you can also use chicken breast.
I’ve also tried this with bone-in chicken. As long as bone-in chicken pieces are small, the recipe works with bone-in chicken as well! Be sure to sauté bone-in chicken a little longer to ensure no extra moisture will be released while cooking.
How to prevent soggy rice when making Instant Pot Pulao
I’ve tested many times to ensure that the rice remains fluffy and moist, with each grain separated just like a traditional pulao. Here are my tips to prevent soggy rice:
- Use the right kind of rice. While I can’t be sure all rice will cook to perfection with this method (you may have to do a little trial and error), most aged, long-grain basmati rice will work wonderfully in this recipe. I use this Royal Chef’s Secret brand.
- The recipe calls to soak the rice for 25 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. If that’s not how long you normally soak it, try soaking the rice for a shorter period of time.
- After cooking the rice, allow it to naturally release pressure as directed in the recipe. You’ll notice that it’ll get even less moist as time goes on.
- All the ingredients are measured specifically to prevent soggy rice. Use a small tomato as directed in the recipe so the moisture doesn’t cause sogginess. If you prefer pulao without a tomato, feel free to omit it.
- Before adding the chicken, be sure to pat it dry with a paper towel.
- Lastly, remove the rice promptly from the Instant Pot and place on your serving dish.
What to serve with Chicken Pulao
More tips on making chicken pulao in the Instant Pot:
- This recipe moves quickly once the onions have browned. Before you begin cooking, have all ingredients (especially the spices) prepped and ready to go.
- As always with South Asian recipes, be sure to pick out and discard the whole spices while you eat. If you don’t want to bite into the whole spices at all, place them in a spice bag or cheesecloth bundle. I don’t recommend grinding them because they may become overpowering.
- Triple wash the basmati rice to remove starches and encourage the grains to separate once cooked.
More Instant Pot recipes you’ll love:
- Instant Pot Shami Kebab (with stovetop instructions)
- Instant Pot Maash ki Dal
- Instant Pot Kadhi
- Instant Pot Nihari
- Instant Pot Butter Chicken
- Instant Pot Chana Pulao (Chickpea Pilaf)
For more ideas, check out my Instant Pot Pakistani Recipes Roundup!
Instant Pot Chicken Pulao
- Instant Pot
- 1 ½ cups (285 grams) aged, long grain basmati rice
- 2 tbsp neutral oil such as grapeseed or avocado
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
- 2 small (or 1 large) bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
- 1 small black cardamom optional
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp coriander seeds crushed
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 3/4 inch piece ginger crushed
- 1 lb boneless chicken (I prefer thighs or tenders but you may use breast) cubed into 1” pieces
- 1 small (50g) tomato finely chopped
- 1-2 green chili peppers whole or chopped (optional)
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 2 ¼ tsp kosher salt divided (or to taste)
- small handful chopped cilantro and/or mint
- Thoroughly wash the rice and soak it in water for 15-25 minutes*. Then drain. I usually start pulao preparation while the rice is soaking.
- Select the high Sauté setting on the Instant Pot. Once hot, add the oil, ghee, and thinly sliced onion. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a tablespoon of water. The color of the onions will determine the color of the rice so you want to get them even and golden brown.
- Add the whole spices, garlic, and ginger and sauté for another minute or until the raw smell disappears. Add the chicken** and ¼ tsp of the salt and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes until the color of the chicken changes. Add the tomato and green chili pepper and sauté until the tomato softens, about 2 minutes.
- Add the rice, remaining salt, and water and stir to combine. Scrape the sides of the pot and gently press down the rice to make everything is submerged in the water.
- Cancel the Sauté setting, secure the lid, and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Pressure-cook on high setting for 6 minutes. Let naturally release for 15 minutes. Then manually release any remaining pressure by moving the Pressure Release to Venting. Fluff with a fork. Sprinkle the cilantro/mint over the top and serve with raita or yogurt.