Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Best rice ever


Hands down my favorite recipe from Louisa Shafia's New Persian Kitchen is the rice with yogurt tahdig, which I made last night. This is called "stuck-pot rice" in some quarters because you cook your rice in such a way that it forms a hard crust (tahdig) caked to the bottom of the pot. I'd heard of it before, but, to quote Deb Perelman, "I guffawed a bit, because who needs a recipe for that?" I used to have this great picture of my mother lounging with a glass of wine on the living room floor in her pottery clothes. It was tacked to my wall for years and my private caption for it was: “Mom, letting the brown rice burn.”

There’s a recipe for curry-spiked stuck-pot rice in The Essential New York Times Cookbook (this is it) and here's Smitten Kitchen’s lentil-fortified take on the dish. I want to try them both, but at this point can only vouch for Shafia’s unspiced yogurt version. It is fabulous and easy and you need to try it.

Here’s how it works: Cook basmati rice in rapidly boiling salted water for 5 minutes then drain. Mix some of the rice with yogurt to form a paste. Heat oil or butter a wide skillet until sizzling hot and spread the paste across the the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and flatten with a spatula. Now mound the rest of the rice on top in a soft pyramid shape. Cover and cook for 10 minutes at medium-high heat. Put a clean towel under the lid, reduce heat to low, and cook for 50 minutes more.

The rice on the bottom formed a crispy, salty, delectably oily brown crust and directly above the crust was a softer, tangier layer. Above that, was a mass of fluffy white rice. Shafia: "When made well, tahdig looks like a perfectly caramelized disk, and it can be detached from the pot and served whole, or broken into jagged, golden shards." I think it must look like this

I didn’t even try to unmold the rice and keep the crust intact, just scooped out individual portions. Shafia describes the crust's flavor as "somewhere between fried chicken and popcorn," which captures it perfectly. Her full recipe is here. For her yogurt version, just add 3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt to the 2 cups rice and mix to form a paste.

When I handed him his plate, I explained to Owen that the brown crusty pieces were a feature not a bug. This made him suspicious/rebellious so he ate everything but the crust. Irritating! But also cool because it meant more of the good stuff for Mom. Reverse psychology is always the way to go these days. 

Thank you, Louisa Shafia, for this extraordinary recipe and a lovely book.

12 comments:

  1. He didn't eat the tahdig? In Iranian families, the kids fight over it! And by kids I mean, my aunts and uncles try to steal it off my plate. You will totally impress the Iranian ladies in your ESL class when you tell them you made tahdig.

    I'm glad Shafia's recipe for tahdig made of yogurt works out. That's the version of tahdig I do too, unless I am being lazy and using an Iranian-made rice maker which does it all, without yogurt. I was skeptical of some of her other variations and haven't tried anything from the book yet. You are convincing me that I should. Anyway, I just recently discovered your blog and I think it's a breath of fresh air.

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    1. Thirteen-year-old American boys are ridiculous.
      Funny you mention the ESL class. I went today and there's an Iranian woman -- a newcomer -- who doesn't understand any English. A few basic words. I think she just wants to be in the intermediate class because her friend is there and to be alone in the beginner class intimidates her. Anyway, I was trying to help her along and the only word we shared was tahdig. I showed her a picture on my phone to be sure we were really communicating and, yes, we were. It's a start.

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  2. Maybe if you'd told Owen it was a bug he would have eaten it.

    Mark Bittman has stuck-pot rice in HTCEV but I've been afraid to try it. Now that I know you've road-tested it and it really is as delicious as claimed, I'll go for it. Of course my own crew of skeptical eaters will probably give it a pass ... delicious dilemma!

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    1. You should make it --- totally inoffensive, flavor-wise. Owen defies me in everything, now. It's his guiding principle.

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  3. could you clarify the "put a clean towel under the lid" I have visions of a towel hanging out and catching fire.. or is it all tucked inside the lid? which seems likely. Thanks.

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    1. You are correct, it should be tucked inside the lid.

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    2. This is how I do it.
      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-lE7KGPiTAwY/Usg-LgzEo4I/AAAAAAAAM64/-zDv842Y8iM/s1600/persian+chicken+and+chelow-110.jpg

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  4. Years ago I had a friend who had been married to an Iranian man and knew a thing or two about Persian food. She taught me to make a similar dish using potatoes at the bottom of the pot of rice. She said you could do it without the potatoes, letting the rice become crusty, but I never tried that. The dish was outstanding in every way: Rice, mixed with caramelized onions and a small berry that I want to say was called zeresht, which added a tart-sweet component, and the layer of sliced, very brown potatoes sizzling in butter or oil underneath it all. I, too, scooped it out rather than turning it out. Just looked up the berry and it is called zereshk, which means barberries, which are unfamiliar to me.

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  5. I was inspired after reading all the various versions of this Stuck-Pot rice, with potato, pita etc. I often have left-over spaghetti, which I've been trying to find a use for. It was WONDERFUL in this recipe. I fried some onions and mushrooms, chopped the spaghetti up a little bit and added that to the yogurt mixture. I patted that into the hot pan and let it fry. Then I topped it with cooked rice that I had on hand and put the lid on it for 30 minutes. I didn't bother with the towel but might next time, just to see what difference it will make. Loved it all. I will be looking forward to left-over spaghetti now.

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  6. I've been reading your blog for awhile now and I love it! I had to comment on the rice-yogurt-tahdiq . . . My mother-in-law (who is Iranian) makes the version with the yogurt and the version with the potatoes and zereshk (which we just call "red berries" because no one knew what kind they were, only that "you don't have them in America"). She adds saffron to the version with zereshk. She also makes a version with lettuce on the bottom and another yogurt version with dill and lima beans. They are all delicious. Growing up, we never ate rice, so I never learned to cook it. I've watched my mother-in-law make the rice, but it always looks too complicated to try on my own. Now that I've read this post, I will try following this recipe. My mother-in-law and I don't really have anything in common and we don't speak the same language, but we've always bonded over watching the food network and looking at cooking magazines.

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  7. Next time, invert the pan like a cake onto a platter so you can eat the tahdiq by itself. It easily separates from the rest of the rice. Scrape off the rice that clings to it, and then let people break off pieces to enjoy. The one with dill on her website is also delicious.

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  8. This isn't the right place to comment, but this post made me laugh and reminded me of your writing about Uncrustables in "Make the Bread..."

    http://unsophisticook.com/homemade-uncrustables-sandwiches/

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