Pish Pash (Mild & Aromatic Tender Rice, Chicken & Potatoes in Broth)
Like everyone else during these days of the coronavirus, I go through periods of anxiety interspersed with calm and optimism. I hope that after we go through this terrible period our values will shift for the better. Maybe this experience will help us focus on more meaningful things, help us become more compassionate, empathetic beings. Maybe we’ll gain a deeper understanding of how we are connected together all around the world, and connected also to the non-human habitants of our planet – understand that our collective actions leading to deforestation and destruction of habitats impacts not just other species but also us in the end. Seeing how in such a short span of time the respite from human activity seems to be helping our planet recover – gives me hope it’s still possible to solve big environmental problems if we try.
But at this moment while we are going through the pandemic, I’m also pained by the immense suffering all around us. The world has lost so many people already, my heart breaks for the many thousands who suffered terribly painful, solitary ends – without their loved ones around to hold hands or say goodbye to. I feel especially sad for all the elderly we have lost. And sad for those who will grow up without grandparents, who will miss out on the special love, the doting care, the joys. And for the adults too who will now be bereft of their parents. Having lost both my parents in the past few years and having lost almost every one of my parents’ siblings as well, I know what it’s like to have no elders around. And I wonder what the world will be like without an older generation to lean on psychically. It’s not simply the loss of the love of those close to us – special elders have a wisdom, a gentleness, kindness, and perspective that comes from having lived a long life. We need those reminders and qualities too in our lives.
So maybe it’s not so strange during this time of great uncertainty and turmoil that I’m missing my parents even more. I wish I could be with my mom, have her soothe me with just her presence. Since I can’t have her around, what I’ve been finding comfort in is making the kind of food she would prepare to help us get better again. For me the ultimate comfort food, the quintessential emotional cure-all is – Pish Pash. My mom would make it when we were sick and somehow it would restore us back to health again, or so it seemed. With its made-from-scratch chicken broth, tender melty creamy rice, warming curative ginger, and the mild yet delicious aroma that somehow penetrated through colds and fevers and tummy aches, pish pash soothed the throat and being with every bite.
Now when I’m craving something healing and therapeutic, I make pish pash. It’s like balm for the soul. I also like the sound of the name – the alliteration itself is comforting in a way. While this would be made in our house and also in my grandmother’s house, I’m not sure if the majority of Bangladeshis make pish pash. Unlike other traditional dishes that are made across the country, oddly enough I haven’t heard too many other Bangladeshis mention it.
If you haven’t tried it, you should. Maybe it’ll become your comfort food too, kind of like your grandmother’s chicken soup or matzoh ball soup. I actually do crave a good bowl of matzoh ball soup when I’m sick – that’s my other go to, after pish pash.
Pish pash is very easy to cook, with just a few basic ingredients. These days I don’t have the patience to make chicken broth from scratch, so I use store-bought “better than bouillon” chicken stock paste, which I always have some of in my fridge. The fragrance of cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and the rice cooking in chicken stock fills my apartment. It’s such a wonderful scent that brings on a sense of calm and wellbeing, I can’t wait till the pish pash is ready.
If I’m making this when sick, I don’t use the fried onions topping. While it adds another element of delicious flavor and crunchiness, I want just the plain mild soothing pish pash without toppings at those times.
And a final note on pish pash – it’s ready when the rice turns soft and melty. The rice grains shouldn’t stay firm or whole; follow the steps, tips and my photos to cook till the rice disintegrates to that consistency. The end result shouldn’t be dry, it should be a little bit soupy, brothy. Ladle the pish pash, cosy up on the sofa with a warm bowl, inhale its aroma and enjoy its goodness.
Pish Pash (Mild & Aromatic Tender Rice, Chicken & Potatoes in Broth)
- 1 lb chicken breast, cut into small pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 inch piece ginger, thinly sliced (cut a couple of the slices into thin strips)
- 6 baby potatoes peeled (or 1 large potato peeled and cut into chunks)
- 1 cup rice
- 3 cloves
- 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
- 1 bayleaf
- 5-10 Peppercorns, whole
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 2 teaspoons chicken stock paste (I use better than bouillon); if you’re using liquid chicken broth, use 2 cups of broth and reduce amount of water you’ll be adding by the same amount of broth.
- 6 cups water (see note for chicken stock above)
- 1 shallot (optional)
- Add chicken to a large pot with about 6 cups water and chicken stock paste (or if you’re using liquid chicken broth, use 2 cups of the broth and just 4 cups of water). Add onions and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer.
- Slice ginger into thin disks, but make sure they’re not too thin. Take a couple of slices and cut into strips. The ginger slices help you feel better when you’re sick, have fever or cold.
- After 10 minutes of simmering, add potatoes and ginger slices, cover the pot again and continue to simmer.
- In the meantime, rinse the rice in another pot under running water until it’s no longer cloudy. Pour out the liquid and set side.
- After about another 5 minutes of simmering, add rice, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns to the pot on the stove. Stir thoroughly, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered. Cook for another 20 minutes or so, stir from time to time.
- Check to see if the rice is done. It’s done when rice is almost disintegrated. Also make sure that the rice doesn’t dry out; if it starts getting dry, add about a cup of water to the pot and stir thoroughly. You can repeat this process if the rice still hasn’t disintegrated but the liquid has dried out; add another cup of water in that case. (See photos; rice is getting dry but hasn’t disintegrated yet. I added one more cup of water – had 6 cups originally. Covered and simmered). If rice is disintegrating but there’s still too much liquid, uncover the pot and cook till the liquid reduces. There should be some broth remaining, but the end result shouldn’t be like a thin soup.
- While the rice is cooking in step 4, fry the shallots. Thinly slice shallot and fry to make crispy shallots to add to the pish pash (see my method here to make crispy fried shallots). If you’re eating pish pash when you’re unwell or feeling sick, avoid this step. I like the crispy friend shallots flavor but I add them only when I’m healthy.
- When rice is done, taste for salt and add as necessary. Serve and enjoy