Ah, Tahdig… the very sound of it evokes rapturous sighs of desire and the most selfish of thoughts! I have to beat off little scrambling hands in the kitchen so that I can actually serve the tahdig at the table – such is its potency!
What is Tahdig, you might ask? It’s that golden crunchy bottom rice layer, the crowning glory of all Persian rice dishes!
In Farsi, tah=bottom and dig=pot
Now there is a whole lot of literature out there describing how to cook the perfect rice but you know, taste and perfection, if nothing else, are very personal and subjective.
In Persian cooking, to achieve fluffy and perfect rice, it is first parboiled in plenty of water, very much like cooking pasta, drained then steamed until done. The steaming here is not the traditional steaming method that we know, it’s just 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. Rice cooked this way is called chelow (chelo), which is just steamed white rice or polow (polo), which is when it’s mixed with other ingredients like meat, vegetables and fruit. You have no doubt heard of Chelow Kebab and Morasa Polow (jewelled rice).
There is also Kateh, which is Persian rice cooked with the absorption method, producing less fluffy, almost clumpy rice.
So for our very first in the Persian series, we are going to cook Chelow, with Tahdig, of course!
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.
The Tahdig – there are a few different types of Tahdig, the most common being the rice one, what we’re doing today. However, you can also find
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
Rice Tahdig can be achieved differently too!
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. There are 3 different plain rice tahdig.
1. Just the rice into the hot fat
2. A mixture of the rice, yoghurt and saffron into the hot fat
3. A mixture of the rice, yoghurt, saffron & egg into the hot fat
My favourite is number 3 because it produces the richest & tastiest tahdig. My mum liked to use evaporated milk instead of yoghurt, now that was very good too!
You need a flat, heavy based pan with a close fitting lid and a tea towel!
For the Chelow
500g Basmati rice, rinsed in cool water until the water runs clear
10 cups water
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp liquid saffron (see notes below)
3 tbsp salt
For the Tahdig
2 ladles of the cooked rice
1 tbsp yoghurt – optional
1 small egg, lightly beaten – optional
1 tbsp liquid saffron (2 if you like saffron, I don’t)
3 tbsp ghee or butter or olive oil (or a mix)
1 tsp salt
Optional but gives the final product a lovely sheen. I only do this when I’m entertaining.
1 tsp liquid saffron or rose water (I go for rose all the time)
1 tbsp butter or ghee
1. Add the salt to the water, bring it to boil and add the rice. Bring it back to boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. If you’ve soaked your rice, check it after 3 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. If you’ve not soaked your rice, this stage will be around the 5 minute mark but every rice is different.
2. Drain the rice and set aside.
3. Now comes the fun part! Wash out and dry the saucepan you used to parboil the rice, then place it on medium heat.
4. For the tahdig, see proportions above. Mix the 2 ladels of rice rice, yoghurt, egg & salt in a small bowl. If not using yoghurt or egg, just move on to step 5.
5. Mixed the saffron and fat of your choice and swirl it around in your saucepan for a few seconds.
6. Add the rice or rice mix to the fat/saffron mix and flatten down. Leave to cook for a minute.
7. Gradually add the rest of the rice, don’t dump it all in or it might upset the bottom layer.
8. Using your ladle/spatula, bring the rice to the middle, 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.
9. Using the other end of your ladle, poke some holes into the rice, these are the steam “vents”, to allow the steam to come through.
10. 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 no where near the flame!
11. 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.
12. At this stage, lower the heat right down and let the rice steam away for 1 hour. This will produce a golden tahdig, the way I like it. If you prefer a darker shade of brown, 90 minutes.
13. At the end of the cooking time, take it off the heat, let rest for 5 minutes, then sprinkle the saffron or rose & butter topping all over the rice, if you like, or skip this stage.
Now there are two ways to do this.
1. 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. My preferred method as it shows off all that lovely aromatic rice.
2. Place a large, round plate over the pot and invert it, this will show the tahdig off, with the rice at the bottom.
Perfect with a manner of khorests (stews), recipes to come.
For Chelow Kebab, dish out the rice onto a serving platter and place a few Kabab Koobideh on top of it.
Take a pinch of saffron and pound it into powder and mix with 3-4 tbsp of warm water as required.