Kenyan Chicken Pilau: Easy Chicken Pilaf Recipe

Deliciously spiced east African rice pilaf locally called Pilau. This chicken Pilau is an elevated chicken and rice recipe that is very easy to make.

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe

So before I talk about this chicken pilau recipe, I know I didn’t post a new recipe last week. Well, that’s because I went on a brief reflective journey, and as part of my reflection, I thought about food… A lot!! Don’t laugh at me, but as part of my food reflections, I thought about bullion cubes…

Yes, you read right, bullion cubes. Now some of you reading this post might be like “what’s so special about bullion cubes, it’s a normal ingredient”. Others might be like “err… no thank you, I eat only natural food”. Well, I am weird, because I fall between these two opinions. I typically don’t use bullion cubes, and I try to omit them in most of my recipes, I have even caught myself bragging every now and then about how I don’t use bullion cubes in my African cooking (since a lot of Africans cook with bullion cubes) and it comes out tasting great. Sometimes however, I use bullion cubes. There are some of my recipes that could probably taste great without bullion cubes, but I use them anyway, just cause…

After that big disclaimer/ rant, yes I do use bullion cubes in this recipe (just one), and it tastes great. Maybe I cook Kenyan Chicken Pilau with a little bit of bullion in it because that was how I learnt to cook it, or maybe I have never attempted it without bullion, and I don’t want to share a pretend recipe with you guys. Either way, this is my favorite way to cook Chicken Pilau, and it turns out great each time.

I call this a Kenyan recipe, but this rice dish is eaten commonly all over east Africa. As Jollof rice is to west Africans, so is Pilau to east Africans. It is usually served at celebrations, and can be adapted to fit vegetarians and meat eaters alike. The choice of meat used is also adaptable to your preference. What makes a Chicken Pilau recipe special is the spices used in making it. Each cook tends to have a slight variation in the quantity of the different spices in their Pilau spice mix, so even though I do not have an exact ratio, to guide me in mixing the spices I use these basic rules:

  1. Don’t use more than one stick of cinnamon for 3 cups of rice or less to avoid a cinnamon heavy rice.
  2. Don’t use more than 1 table spoon of cumin for 3 cups of rice or less to avoid down playing the other spices. You still want to taste the spice medley in this recipe, and if you use too much cumin, it tends to over power the flavor.
  3. For 3 cup of rice or less do not use more than 6-8 cloves. Cloves tend to numb your mouth if you add too much to this dish.

Other popular spices used in Chicken Pilau but not included in this recipe are ginger and turmeric powder.

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Pilau spices in a frying pan (cinnamon, cumin and cloves)

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Pilau spices ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle

I love using a mortar and pestle to grind a lot of my spices, and the spices in this recipe are no exception. Typically, Pilau spices are ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle, but a spice grinder could also do the job as well. Its is always better to  grind your spices yourself as opposed to purchasing a Pilau spice mix; freshly toasted and ground spices make for a better tasting Pilau as opposed to an already ground Pilau mix that can be bought at some stores. I cannot rave enough about the benefits of grinding your own spices with a mortar and pestle for this recipe, so I won’t talk too much about it. If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, stay tuned, because I just might be giving one away in the next couple of weeks (wink).

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Cooking the chicken with spice and onions

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Pilau chicken cooked and covered in potKenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Rice cooked with chicken


I enjoy my Chicken Pilau with a side of Kenyan salsa, Kachumbari (let me know if you want a recipe for that), and some ginger beer.  In light of my earlier disclaimer/ rant, please share with me, do you cook with bullion cubes? What do you think about bullion cubes in general?

5 from 1 vote
Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe
Kenyan Chicken Pilau: Easy Chicken Pilaf Recipe
Deliciously spiced east African rice pilaf locally called Pilau. This chicken Pilau recipe is an elevated chicken and rice dish that is very easy to make.
Cuisine: East African
Servings: 6 -8
Calories: 557 kcal
Author: Yummy Medley
  • 2 pounds of chopped bone-in chicken
  • 3 cups of long grain basmati rice
  • 2 cups of coconut milk + 2 cups of water
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large red onion sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 10 green cardamon pods
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black pepper corns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bullion cube
  • Salt to taste
  1. Start by toasting the spices on a pan over a medium flame. Toast the cinnamon stick, cardamon pods, and cloves until fragrant (takes about 2-3 minutes), then toast the cumin seeds, black pepper corns, and coriander seeds on medium heat until fragrant (for 1-2 minutes).
  2. With a mortar and pestle, or in a spice grinder, coarsely grind all the spices except the cinnamon stick, and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat, then add in the sliced red onions. Allow to cook until lightly brown, then add the chicken, crushed garlic, ground spiced, and bullion cube.
  4. Stir and allow the chicken to brown slightly. This should take about 5 minutes.
  5. Once the chicken is browned, stir in the rice for another two minutes, then add the coconut milk and water.
  6. At this stage, adjust the salt if necessary (I added an extra tsp or so of salt), and add the cinnamon stick.
  7. Cover the pot, and allow the Pilau to cook on low heat for 20 minutes. To make sure the pot is extra airtight, I used foil to seal the pot first before putting the lid on the pot.
  8. After 20 minutes, turn off the flame, and set the pot aside covered for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, uncover the pot, fluff the rice, and serve.

Kenyan Chicken Pilaf: Easy Chicken Pilau Recipe - Close Up

Enjoy My chicken pilau recipe and don’t forget to let me know how it turned out!


  1. ChiO

    February 12, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Looks good! I should try this – Not everytime TPO based rice and sauces. Waiting patiently for the mortar and pestle giveaway 🙂

    • Ms. Yum

      February 12, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Awesome ChiO! Let me know how it comes out once you try the recipe. Basmati rice used to make me nervous, but this recipe comes out good every time.

  2. Kez

    April 3, 2016 at 7:51 am

    I make a mean pilau too … but I include ginger, tumeric, saffron, raisins/sultanas or cranberries, caramelised julliened carrots & orange zest.

    • Christine Karamagi

      June 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      What basmati rice did you use?
      Also, after 20 minutes, I still had a ton of liquid. It’s now going 20 minutes in and there’s still liquid.
      What do you think is going on?

      • Ms. Yum

        June 18, 2017 at 11:33 pm

        Hi Christine,
        I used a store brand of Basmati rice. I think the issue might be with the type of basmati rice you used. I measured the amount of liquid used in this recipe based on the amount of water called for on the back of the package of the basmati. If the basmati you are using is parboiled, you may need to use less liquid to cook the rice. Most basmati brands call for 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of water. Read the packaging of your basmati to see if you require less liquid. Also, you might need to turn up the heat as well especially if the liquid is not absorbing quickly enough. I hope this helps.

  3. Christi

    January 1, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Yum! This was wonderful! Cooked it following almost exactly to the recipe (had all of the spices already ground so I didn’t roast and grind my own…though I want to try that someday). It was a great adventure to start 2018 full of flavor!

    • Lois

      January 2, 2018 at 12:16 pm

      That is awesome to hear Christi! I am glad you like it!

  4. Ani

    January 30, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Followed the instructions and it was perfect – so easy to cook! A very fragrant and tasty dish that will feed a family. I also added in some potatoes (like they do in Zanzibar) which bulks out the dish when you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed. Sultanas or peas might be a nice addition too. Thanks Lois can’t wait to try your next recipe!

    • Lois

      February 5, 2018 at 9:41 am

      I am so glad the recipe worked for you Ani. It usually comes with potatoes in Kenya as well (I learnt from a Kenyan friend of mine), but I skipped it in this recipe. I have never tried it with sultanas or peas, but it is something I will have to consider for the next time I make it.


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