How to Cook Traditional Persian or Premium Quality Basmatti Rice and TahDig
When you think of a Persian feast, what comes to mind? Kebabs, stews, yoghurts, fruit? An abundance of saffron? And rice, always rice. No Persian meal is complete without it, and the crowning glory of Persian rice is tahdig.
In her book, The New Persian Kitchen, Louisa Shafia writes, “At Iranian feasts, tahdig is the one dish that will disappear entirely from the table — there are simply no leftovers.” But tahdig — meaning “bottom of the pot” in Farsi — isn’t relegated just to holidays. It is eaten whenever rice is part of a meal — which is to say, very very often.
The basic premise of making a successful tahdig is that a portion of parcooked rice on the bottom of the pan gets golden and crispy while the rice above gets steamed — it’s essentially two dishes at a time. Variations include bottom layers made with the addition of yogurt, bread, onions, or potatoes, which each add their own binding qualities and flavours to the final product, but most tahdig are simply made with just rice and oil. For the best results, make the effort to use the best quality Indian basmati rice (at Farside we use Best Premium Rice) and a heavy pot or pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Here’s what you need to know to make a basic tahdig (adapted from The New Persian Kitchen):
Makes approximately 5 1/2 cups rice and one 10-inch disk of tahdig
2 cups white basmati rice
2 heaping tablespoons plus 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee, or grapeseed oil
10-inch heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, preferably a cast-iron pan, a nonstick skillet, or an enamelled pot
Tea towel big enough to wrap your lid
Flame tamer or skillet ring (optional)
Offset spatula or wooden spoon
Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes to an hour. Swish it around in the water a few times, then drain and rinse it until the water runs clear. In a large stockpot, combine 8 cups of water and the 2 heaping tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice and bring to a boil again. Pay attention, as this has a tendency to boil over. After 5 minutes, test to see if the rice is done by breaking a grain in half. It should be soft in the centre but still opaque and not totally cooked through, which may take up to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse the rice under cold running water to stop the cooking. Measure out 2 cups of the rice and set aside.
Heat the pan over low heat for a few minutes. Add the oil (if your pan is bigger than 10 inches, add an additional 2 tablespoons of oil) and swirl it around; add the 2 cups of rice. Spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan and pack it down tightly, using an offset spatula or a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt over the rice.
Add the rest of the rice to the pot and shape it into a pyramid. Using a chopstick, poke several holes into the rice to let steam escape. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook the rice for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to as low as your stove will allow. Place a clean dish towel under the lid to catch the condensation from the rice, and cover the pan. If you have a flame tamer, slide it between the heat and your pan. Cook for 50 minutes.
Lift the lid from the pan. There will be condensation trapped under the lid, so try not to tilt the lid so that the condensation drips back into the rice. Gently scoop the rice from the pyramid onto a serving platter, making sure not to disturb the tahdig at the bottom of the pot. Loosen the sides of the tahdig with a butter knife or a small offset spatula, place a plate on top of the pan, and flip onto the plate.
Serve the steamed rice on a platter and if you like with a pat of butter. Gently mix some of the rice with the dissolved saffron and arrange it nicely on top. Remove the tahdig from your pot with a spatula and serve whole or broken into pieces. Add to the top of your rice platter. Noosh-e-jan!
Originally published on the Food52 blog March 25, 2015 — How to Make Tahdig