Tahchin (Crispy Saffron Rice Casserole Stuffed With Chicken)

November 12, 2020
13 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.
Author Notes

This twist on tahchin, a Persian dish of a baked rice, chicken, and yogurt colored by saffron, has a crunchy tahdig at the bottom, which is arguably the best part about it. Here, the chicken briefly marinates in a seasoned yogurt before cooking in the pan alongside onions that become incredibly soft and silky. (You can marinate the chicken overnight, but even just 10 to 15 minutes makes a difference.)

There’s a fair amount of moving parts in the initial part of the recipe, but then you will have at least an hour of downtime as it bakes in the oven. This is the perfect time to clean up—maybe while having a glass of wine—and to start prepping any dishes that you want to serve with the tahchin. If you’re eating it on its own, it goes wonderfully with an acidic salad, your favorite relish or fresh herbs. —yasminfahr

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons 5-7% thick-style yogurt such as Greek or Skyr
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning onions and chicken
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 2 medium yellow onions, half of one onion grated and and set aside the rest thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed for the rice
  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed and dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons room temperature ghee or unsalted butter (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. In a shallow mixing bowl, combine 2 tablespoons yogurt with 1 teaspoon cumin, the turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and the grated onion and its juices. Add the chicken, coating with the yogurt mixture, and set aside at room temperature while you cook the onions.
  2. Heat a dry 12-inch cast iron or heavy skillet over medium heat until very hot, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the onions, stirring at 1 minute increments so that they get uninterrupted contact with the pan, until they release their juices and start to become translucent, about 4 minutes total. Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil, season with salt, and continue to cook until the onions start to soften and take on color, about 6 minutes more, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Push the onions to the side of the pan to create a space in the center, then snuggle in the chicken pieces and cook until they're all the way cooked through (cut into one to check), about 18 minutes total. When you're doing this, stir the onions throughout to make sure they don’t burn, and turn over the chicken pieces every 4 to 5 minutes during the cooking process. If the pan looks too dry at any point, then add a splash of water and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. After the chicken is cooked, remove from the heat, then use a knife and fork to shred the chicken in a mixing bowl or on a plate.
  3. Meanwhile, when you add the chicken to the skillet to start cooking, place the rice in a fine-mesh strainer, using your hands to agitate it under warm running water until it is no longer cloudy and runs clear. Then, in a 3-quart pot, combine the rice, 4 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon salt, bringing it to a boil over high heat. Cook at a gentle boil, reducing the heat to medium-high if the bubbles become too large, until the rice grains are no longer crunchy inside (taste one to see) and most of the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom, 6 to 8 minutes. If any scum rises to the top, then spoon it off. Pour the rice into the same strainer, running it under cold water to cool it down. Drizzle through with olive oil until some drops start to come through the strainer, while mixing the rice with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Leave in the sink.
  4. Meanwhile, while the rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Spread 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 2-inch glass baking dish (by using this pan, you can check the color of the rice as it cooks), including the sides, and place in the oven to warm up.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg using a fork or whisk, then add 1 1/2 cups yogurt, 2 tablespoons oil, the saffron water, the remaining 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and mix well until it achieves a cohesive consistency (about 1 minute). Add the cooked rice to the yogurt mixture and gently mix through.
  6. Remove the baking dish from the oven, swirling the pan to spread out the oil, and add half of the rice-yogurt mixture to the bottom and sides of the dish. Pat it down firmly with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Then layer the shredded cooked chicken and onions over the rice, and then top with the remaining rice-yogurt mixture and pour any pan juices on top. Use your hands to compact the rice so that the layers bake together.
  7. Cover with aluminum foil, then use a fork to poke small holes in the middle of the foil to allow the steam to release, securing it on the sides and stretching it out again to make sure the middle isn’t sinking. Place into the oven and bake for 75 to 90 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through the cooking time, until the bottom of the rice turns a deep golden brown. Start checking the bottom around 1 hour and keep an eye on it until done. If it is nearing time and you see the sides golden brown but the center a lighter color, then you can remove the foil to let it finish cooking that way. When done, remove foil and loosen the sides of the pan with a knife. Let cool for 5 minutes. If using the optional ghee or butter, now's the time to add it to the top of the rice now so that it melts into the dish.
  8. Holding a serving platter tightly over the dish, grab onto the handles on both sides of the dish, then invert the two together (away from you) so that the tahdig (the crispy bottom) is facing up (this is admittedly the most nerve racking part). If the tahdig sticks, you can scrape it off and serve with the loose rice (it will still be delicious). Serve with pickles, remaining yogurt and fresh herbs, if desired.

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