Genius Recipes

Samin Nosrat's Hauntingly Crispy Persian-ish Rice

The Netflix star's hand-holding guide to tahdig.

March  4, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


When I say Samin Nosrat’s crackling, golden Persian-ish rice is foolproof, I mean it mostly in the ways you’d expect.

I mean it in the sense that, even though I’d never before tried the art of making my own tahdig (that prized, crispy bottom-of-the-pot layer of scorched rice), by following Samin’s precise, encouraging steps, I—the titular fool to be proofed against—have been buoyed to success.

Ta-da! Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

I’ve turned out batch after batch, with different stovetops and pans and roller-coastering levels of attention. Every time, my tahdig is proud, pristine, and scarfed up immediately.

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“I cut the recipe in half and it worked perfectly first time try! Wish I could post a picture. So proud to present such a delicious and spectacular looking dish. Thank you!!”
— Linda
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Some of this warm welcome comes from the clear, friend-at-your-side writing in all of Samin’s recipes, and some is thanks to that -ish. “Since traditional Persian rice can take years to perfect and hours to make,” Samin explains in her now many-times-over bestselling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, “I’m including this Persian-ish variation, which I accidentally devised one night when I found myself with a few extra cups of just-boiled basmati rice on my hands.”

When I asked her for more specifics on the -ish, she laughed: “The -ish was insurance, so that when Persians and Iranian-Americans looked at it and didn’t see all of the steps, they wouldn’t yell at me for trying to advertise it as super-traditional rice—although, I have to say, it’s pretty close.”

This, plus Samin at your side, is all you need.

The -ish breaks down to three unconventional tricks that give beginners a boost:

1) A Shallower Pan

Not everyone has the deep, nonstick pot many Iranians rely on. But most home cooks will have a nonstick (or very well-seasoned cast-iron) skillet.

Better still, this means you can easily peek at the sides of the rice, which Samin uses as clues for how the invisible, precious bottom of the pot is faring—first, by watching for bubbles of oil flickering at the sides, then watching them darken and crisp.

2) Going Lidless

Traditionally, the pot would be covered with a lid wrapped in a towel, which you can see Samin and her mom do in the Heat episode of the Netflix series based on the book. By uncovering the pan, not only is even more of the mystery removed, potentially bottom-sogging excess steam can escape, too. The tahdig crisps happily in its absence. This flexibility leads us to -ish point 3.

3) A Longer Dunk

Cooking the rice in an uncovered pan might sound like a formula for underdone rice (to steam rice, don’t you need … steam?). To compensate, Samin cooks her rice a little further in the parboiling step, so the grains are already al dente before you pause the cooking with cold water. Then, as they sizzle in the skillet, the lingering steam wafting through gently finishes plumping the grains, without any chance of leftover chalky rice patches.

A few tablespoons of yogurt help the bottom crust fuse (and taste really good).

Beyond these three tricks, Samin's recipe also thoughtfully spells out the whys of the dance moves you might see pop up in other Persian rice recipes, from salting the water for parboiling the rice (very, very) well to giving the pan a quarter-turn a handful of times as the bottom is crackling, a technique her mom swears by for an evenly golden tahdig.

You’ll take all her lessons with you when you try your hand at more traditional Persian rice recipes (for Nowrooz, the upcoming Persian New Year, for example, I’d suggest her herby sabzi polo from the New York Times).

Those holes let steam escape. Less steam = crispier tahdig.

But maybe most important of all is what actually makes the recipe foolproof: It’s not that she’s promising it will come out perfectly—a shiny shellack of rice landing in front of you every time—tempting as it would be to say so. It’s that, even if your tahdig breaks apart as you tip it from the pan, or looks more like a blotchy leopard patchwork of hot spots, that’s fine.

As she writes in her final step, “Do what every Persian grandmother since the beginning of time has done: Scoop out the rice, chip out the tahdig in pieces with a spoon or metal spatula, and pretend you meant to do it this way. No one will be the wiser.”

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to super-tipster, editor, and stylist Ali Slagle for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

31 Comments

ariel A. March 24, 2020
So exciting to see a genius recipe for tahdig!! I'm first-gen Iranian American and I stiiillll struggle with tahdig, so I'm stoked to try this method out. I also appreciate the Persian-ish designation bahaha
 
Heidi March 20, 2020
Kristen, your writing is ALWAYS just as delicious as the recipes. xo
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 21, 2020
Thank you so much, Heidi—what a nice thing to hear right now. I hope you and yours are holding up well.
 
Kit B. March 16, 2020
I’ve made this twice. First time very yummy, but too dark. I adjusted the boiling time down a minute, total time in the skillet down to 30 minutes. The rice doesn’t seem done. Next time, 8 minutes boiling, 35 minutes I
In the skillet.
 
[email protected] March 12, 2020
Ahhh. sweet crunchy delish. fabulous recipe came out perfectly.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
Yay!
 
VickiProffer March 12, 2020
I followed the recipe and added some saffron into the yogurt mixture. The rice was beautiful and absolutely delicious! I will be making this again. It is a show stopper when flipped over!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
So happy to hear it!
 
Linda March 9, 2020
I cut the recipe in half and it worked perfectly first time try! Wish I could post a picture. So proud to present such a delicious and spectacular looking dish. Thank you!!
 
Eric K. March 10, 2020
Yay! Nice tip about cutting the recipe in half. I may try that myself...
 
Linda March 12, 2020
I forgot to mention that I used goat yogurt as well. Perfect!
 
[email protected] March 9, 2020
What size pan is used in the video?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
I believe it was this in 10-inch! https://food52.com/shop/products/4992-food52-x-greenpan-nonstick-skillet-set-of-2
 
Kit B. March 9, 2020
I followed the guidelines and everything “ came out” great. I had to add oil to see the bubbling and probably allowed 5 minutes too much cooking time waiting for the amber so it was dark but very edible. My husband loved it snd he is not a fan of white rice.
 
Ericka March 9, 2020
Many years ago, I had a traditional rice dish made by Puerto Rican friends and we all fought over the pegao at the bottom of the calderon (I hadn't had it since my Grandma had cooked Spanish rice and chicken for me as a young girl!) as the other attendees looked on thinking we were all crazy lol! But it's truly the most flavorful part of the rice and "hauntingly crunchy" is the perfect description!
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe and bringing back many wonderful memories! I never realized this was an actual dish but I am whole heartedly looking forward to making it!!
 
Claire March 8, 2020
Wow, Thank You!! I am one who has been too intimidated to make this rice. Now I’m ready. Wish me “Bonne Chance“. French for Good Luck.
 
EternalBrat March 7, 2020
Just seeing the picture took me back to 1988, Vienna, when and English friend, married to a Persian, made this for our lunch. I never tried it before because it looked so hard. Now I have a new hope for when I have family home. Thanks so much for the great memories
 
Abra W. March 6, 2020
I am going to try to sub vegan equivalents in this recipe.
 
Ericka March 9, 2020
If you do, please let us know how it went!
 
witloof March 4, 2020
I can't watch the video because the music is so annoying!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 5, 2020
Sorry to hear it!
 
Anne R. March 4, 2020
[email protected] that crust is called tadik, I've been making is for years. It's good stuff.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 5, 2020
I hadn't seen that spelling before—thank you for sharing.
 
Judy March 4, 2020
Unrelated to the recipe itself but honestly I just had to comment - why oh why is the rice described as "hauntingly crispy"? It looks like a beautiful dish but the description was so off-putting.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 5, 2020
It's a word that comes to mind when one bite is so good, you don't ever forget it. Every time I've tried this recipe, it's haunted me in a very good way. (Also, after writing about food for a decade, I really like when I get to use words besides crispy and delicious!)
 
Eric K. March 5, 2020
It's so good it comes up behind you and SPOOKS you like a ghost! 👻
 
Katie March 6, 2020
Heehee, I love this.
 
Staci K. March 9, 2020
Curious why hauntingly is off-putting...lots of ways to use that descriptor, I loved the choice!
 
VickiProffer March 4, 2020
Why didn't you use saffron as Samin did with her mother? How would you incorporate that into the dish. It looked amazing and I am going to try it! Thank you, your demonstration looked so much easier.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 5, 2020
This is the "Persian-ish" recipe from Samin's cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, while in the episode with her mom she made a more traditional version. I'd either rewatch that episode (loved how it steamed in a cup alongside the rest of the rice!) or reference this other more traditional tahdig recipe of hers: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020207-polo-ba-tahdig-persian-rice-with-bread-crust
 
VickiProffer March 5, 2020
Thank you! The "ish" recipe looked so much easier and more foolproof. I will see if I can sneak it in with the yogurt.