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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Persian food expert Louisa Shafia teaches us how to (successfully) make tahdig, or pot-stuck rice.
When you think of a Persian feast, what comes to mind? Kebabs, stews, yogurts, 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.
Tahdig (pronounced tah-DEEG) is a crispy, browned layer of rice formed at the bottom of a pot by frying parboiled rice to a crisp while the rice on top steams. Louisa Shafia, Persian food expert and winner of the 2014 Piglet, says that “practically every rice-eating culture” has a variation of tahdig (Korean nurungji, Dominican concón, Spanish socarrat, Chinese guo ba, etc.).
In her book, The New Persian Kitchen, 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 flavors to the final product, but most tahdigs are simply made with just rice and oil. For the best results, make the effort to use Indian basmati 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 enameled 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 center 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 tahdig immediately, whole or broken into pieces. Serve the steamed rice with a pat of butter, if you'd like.
Photos by James Ransom