This basic rice recipe is your first step to mastering the art of cooking Persian rice. Once you understand the principles, you can move on to the other Persian rice recipes (see images below), whether on this site on in your favourite cookbook!
This Persian rice can be served with any Persian khoresh (stew), even if tradition dictates that some stew have specific rice accompaniments. Call me a rule breaker! Here are a couple of Persian stews that would go amazingly with this Persian Steamed Rice:
What is Tahdig, you might ask?
It’s that golden crunchy bottom rice layer, the crowning glory of all Persian rice dishes!
In Farsi (the Persian and Afghan language),
- tah = bottom
- dig = pot
How to Cook Perfect Persian Rice
In Persian cooking, to achieve fluffy and perfect rice, it is first parboiled in plenty of salted water, very much like cooking pasta, drained then steamed until done.
The steaming here is not the traditional steaming method that you may be thinking. Instead, it’s more a case of finishing the rice off on the stove with a tight fitting lid and a tea towel, creating a whole lot of steam in the pot. Pretty much like cooking biryani.
- Chelo (chelow) is the name for Persian steamed white rice, or rice with saffron.
- Polo (polow), is when the rice is mixed with other ingredients like meat, vegetables and fruit, like Zereshk Polo (Barberry Rice), Morasa Polo (Jewelled Rice) and Sabzi Polo (Herbed Rice).
So for our very first in the Persian series, we are going to cook Chelo, Persian steamed rice, with Tahdig.
What rice is best for cooking Persian Rice?
Basmati is always a good choice. It’s not called King of Rice for nothing. Good quality Thai Jasmine rice is another good bet. Its naturally perfumed grains lend a wonderful aroma to your finished dish.
To Soak Rice or Not to Soak?
Traditionally, the rice is always soaked in salted water for at least a couple of hours before cooking. However, I have long dispensed with the soaking method, having found that I much prefer the final texture without. If you are a soaking kind of person though, go ahead, soak in cool water for a couple of hours with 2 tsp of salt.
Different types of Tahdig
- Rice Tahdig – a crispy base of rice (see below)
- Potato Tahdig – thinly sliced potatoes
- Bread Tahdig – layers of any old flat bread
- Spaghetti Tahdig – seriously! Of course other types of pasta are often also used
There are 3 different plain rice tahdig. To get the perfect Tahdig, you place a ladle or two full of the parboiled rice into hot fat before gradually adding the rest of the rice in.
- Just the rice into the hot fat
- A mixture of the rice, yoghurt and saffron into the hot fat
- A mixture of the rice, yoghurt, saffron & egg into the hot fat
My favourite is number 3 because it produces the richest and tastiest tahdig. My mum liked to use evaporated milk instead of yoghurt, now that was very good too!
Best pot for cooking this Persian Steamed Rice
You need a flat, heavy based pan with a close fitting lid and a tea towel. The pot has to be fairly deep, about 4″. The tea towel is to absorb any excess moisture.
And click here for the YouTube video. This is just your regular saffron crushed and soaked in water. Although it will last in the fridge for 2-3 days, I always make it fresh as I need it. How much saffron you use depends on what the recipe calls for.
By Popular Demand, Easy Persian Saffron Rice
Right then, ready to take your first step into the wonderful world of Persian Rice?
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Persian Steamed Rice with Tahdig
- 500 g (2 1/2 cups) Basmati rice, rinsed in cool water until the water runs clear
- a saucepan of water big enough to take the rice
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 Tbsp liquid saffron
- 3 Tbsp salt
- 2 ladles of the parboiled rice above
- 1 Tbsp yoghurt
- 1 small egg lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp liquid saffron
- 1 Tbsp butter
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp rose water
- 1 Tbsp butter
Parboiling the Rice
- Add the salt to the water, bring it to boil and add the rice. Bring it back to boil and cook for 7 minutes. Get a grain and bite it, it should be soft on the outside and just resistant on the inside, not raw solid but almost cooked solid.
- Drain the rice, rinse with cold tap water, drain again and set aside.
Steaming the Rice
- Wash out and dry the saucepan you used to parboil the rice, then place it on medium heat.
- For the tahdig, see proportions above. Mix the 2 ladles of rice rice, yoghurt, egg and salt in a small bowl. If not using yoghurt or egg, just move on to step 5.
- Mixed the saffron and fat of your choice and swirl it around in your saucepan for a few seconds.
- Add the rice or rice mix to the fat/saffron mix and flatten down. Leave to cook for a minute.
- Gradually add the rest of the rice, ladle by ladle, forming a conical shape. The reason for this is that traditional chelow pots were conical, giving you a wide base for your tahdig. Also given the long cooking time, whatever rice that touches the saucepan is going to crisp up slightly. So you want as much of the rice away from the edges as possible.
- Wrap the saucepan lid up with the towel and place on the saucepan, ensuring it’s a tight fit. The towel is there to absorb any excess moisture, preventing soggy rice. Make sure your tea towel is nowhere near the flame!
- Cook on that same medium heat for 5 minutes. This should be enough time for the steam to build up. My mum used to wet her fingers and touch the side of the saucepan and if it “sizzled” that meant there was enough steam.
- At this stage, lower the heat right down and let the rice steam away for 45 minutes. This will produce a golden tahdig, the way I like it. If you prefer a darker shade of brown, go for 60-90 minutes.
- At the end of the cooking time, take it off the heat, let rest for 5 minutes, then sprinkle the rose water and butter topping all over the rice, if you like, or skip this stage.
- Ladle out all that beautiful, glistening rice onto a platter, lifting out the tahdig right at the end and serving that up separately, cut or broken up into pieces.