Tahchin (Crispy Saffron Rice Casserole Stuffed With Chicken)

November 12, 2020
26 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
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

What You'll Need
  • 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)
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • MBE
  • Ashley Taylor
    Ashley Taylor
  • Rachel Nambi
    Rachel Nambi
  • MMH
Yasmin is a recipe developer and cookbook author. Her first book, Keeping it Simple, is full of easy, weeknight one-pot recipes. Say hi to her online @yasminfahr!

23 Reviews

Lcw April 17, 2023
I made the whole thing in my cast iron skillet. I knew it would give me a beautiful crust and I didn’t have to preheat it because it was already hot. I also added raisins as others had mentioned. Will make again. Wonderful aroma
MBE April 12, 2023
Delicious! I didn't turn it out because it was just the two of us (and yes we are looking forward to lots of leftovers). I think it would easily serve 6 to eight and possibly more. agree with the reviews that would add some dried fruit (cranberries or sour cherries and almonds).
kml2002 January 25, 2023
This was *amazing* - I served it with crispy chickpeas on top - so delicious!

My question is about defrosting/re-heating from frozen. I divided it into two 8 x 8 pans and froze one after baking. Thoughts on how long to defrost and time/temp to reheat it would be much appreciated.
Ashley T. January 16, 2023
The instructions on this are perfectly calibrated. I love when there is a clear sense of how to multi-task during a recipe that is kind of intensive in its preparation. I swapped paprika for saffron, and although I didn't measure it, I think if I were making this again, I'd use more paprika. The shredded yogurt-marinated chicken thighs and caramelized onions were incredible, easily the best part of this, which isn't to knock the rice. I used 2 pounds of chicken and honestly could have gone for even more. I also used Cabot's 10% milkfat plain Greek yogurt which made the rice extra creamy.

One idea I have for this recipe is to combine it with this recipe: So harissa mixed in with the yogurt in the rice and chicken, orange juice instead of lemon juice, and some dates or figs mixed into the rice. If I make that, I will update!
Lucy D. January 8, 2023
A couple helpful things to know. The ingredient list is for two separate mixtures: the chicken marinade and the rice mixture so don’t bother measuring things based on the ingredient list. When I make it again, I’ll have the ingredients available and measure as im going through the steps. Also prep time is not 15mns. as one might imagine. I used an enameled cast iron casserole and it was easy to see when the edges were brown so don’t sweat it if you don’t have a glass baking dish.
Adriana December 26, 2022
This was an excellent recipe, stunning a d delicious. Happened to have bone-in thighs and Jasmine rice in the house so that’s what I used. Because of the bones the chicken took longer than expected to cook and yogurt started to burn a little in the pan. Had a little rice stuck on the bottom of the anodized aluminum casserole I used. Would recommend :
- add a handful of cranberries
- consider using rotisserie chciken to save time
- use a detachable ring mold for ease of inverting
Trish C. November 8, 2021
Trish C. November 8, 2021
Delicious recipe and not too complicated for a weeknight. I will make it again, though in the future I’ll probably add some soaked golden raisins and slivered almonds to the filling along with the chicken. Would also be great with other fillings — I’m thinking ground lamb or beef, or even vegetables.
Sarah January 19, 2021
Was a bit ambitious for a school night dinner but the chicken was amazing and popped out picture perfect. I need someone with more experience making/seasoning the rice to give me pointers as I’ve never done this method before it needed some more flavor - I blame myself!
Rachel N. December 29, 2020
My friend made this for me, and I had to make it again on my own the very next week. It is SO good and worth the time and effort to make it.
David December 13, 2020
What would be a good vegetable accompaniment to this glorious-sounding dish?
Adriana December 26, 2022
I served it with green beans topped with browned walnuts.
MBE April 12, 2023
I served steamed asparagus.
Polly T. December 10, 2020
Oh my goodness this was amazing. I made it with Quorn pieces but think I’ll use jackfruit next time. Such a great recipe thank you!
Merry November 26, 2020
Wow, just wow! This was amazing (and we have enough leftovers to feed the world) and it came out of the pan perfectly. Sorry we can't share the video of flipping it over and our surprise when it looked so good. Wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, thank you.
Kathleen November 26, 2020
I was making this for Thanksgiving and had a bit of a catastrophe. When I took the glass casserole dish out of the oven after preheating it, it exploded. I spent an hour cleaning and have to throw away all of the food that was potentially contaminated with glass.

Apparently pyrex recommends against preheating without anything in the dish. Just thought others may want to consider that before attempting. It smelled good at least. But it's all in the garbage now. 2020 Thanksgiving, #1.

lazysusankitchen November 23, 2020
This was delicious! Like MrsFalcon, I wasn’t sure about this method of dry sautéing the onions, but it worked fine. I browned the chicken thighs on the stovetop as instructed but then put the whole pan into the 400 oven to finish cooking the chicken without burning the onions. Will definitely make again.
Darian November 21, 2020
My family loved this! I cut the thighs into bite-sized pieces before marinating, so was able to skip the shredding step entirely. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter and was thrilled with the result.
MMH November 19, 2020
We really liked this. I cut the cooking time in half for the chicken on the stove top and it was very moist. I tripled the cumin in the marinade and would do that again for sure.
cmparnell November 17, 2020
Made according to instructions, including the saffron. Delicate flavor, lovely crust. Tempted to amp up the cumin and turmeric next time and to prepare the chicken and onions in the pressure cooker for easier shredding, quicker prep. Lovely with an herb salad dressed in lemon and olive oil.
Brooke K. November 17, 2020
Really good. I used Chicken Breast instead and a touch more olive oil to ensure it remained moist. Loved the onions and wished there were more as they added so much to the flavor. I had used all my saffron on paella so I substituted dulce and picante paprika with the hot water instead and the flavor was great. I would maybe add more next time. Will definitely make again and love the suggestion of a bitter salad with as it would be perfect.
TinaI November 17, 2020
Sounds amazing ! Can’t wait to try it, I made the tahdig recipe that was on food 52 earlier, I’m betting this dish will be even better!