The first time, the recipe combined parboiled rice with fine short pieces of vermicelli that had been browned in butter.
This was the pilaf demonstrated at the Armenian Food Fair & Fest held at Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Montebello.
Then Barbara Harutunian emailed me to explain how cooks working behind the scenes prepared pilaf for the dinners that were sold at the fair.
That pilaf contained browned wide noodles, not the fine vermicelli used in the demonstration.
There are two schools of thought on this. "The 'old school' prefers the wide noodles, which are really the traditional," Harutunian says. (I liked the way they looked in the dish.)
"The new generation prefers the vermicelli, because they feel it is only being used for color, and the taste does not come into play."
Working in advance, the cooks browned the noodles on baking sheets in the oven, without butter. Frying them on top of the stove would have been difficult. considering they had to prepare 40 pounds of wide noodles and 25 pounds of vermicelli (used when the wide noodles ran out) for 1,800 dinners.
On the day of the fair, the cooks combined the rice, noodles and broth and then added the butter. "The flavor comes out the same, but it's a lot faster for the cook staff," Harutunian says.
Keep this technique in mind if you want to make a large quantity of pilaf for a party.
Otherwise, try the way I prepared a smaller batch, following the "old school" method.
"OLD SCHOOL" ARMENIAN PILAF
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup wide egg noodles, in short lengths
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups parboiled rice (Uncle Ben's)
Heat the butter in a medium skillet. Add the noodles and fry until golden brown.
Bring the broth to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the rice, the noodles and salt to taste. Cover and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Stir gently to mix the rice and noodles evenly.
Makes 6 servings.