persian baked rice
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My mother liked rice but she couldn’t cook it at all well. I recoil with horror at some memories, which naturally didn’t freak out a nine-year-old me as I didn’t have a clue at the time. She’d boil it in plenty of water, like pasta; and like pasta it would be al dente except al broken dente. If it was inedibly tough, she sometimes tried boiling it for the second time – here’s to innovative double cooked rice.
On other occasions it was mush, soup, goo, unintentional congee. And sometimes she’s steam it covered, as you do, except she’d forget to turn the heat off and it would catch and scorch at the bottom on the residual butter she’d added in copious quantities (butter will compensate for the lack of skill was her motto).
And that was the only time I enjoyed my mum’s cooking – scraping the nearly burnt solidified rice from the bottom of the pan.
Little did I know then what I know now: that it’s the die-for, fight-for, chef-reserved-for bits of cooked rice in many countries, with Spain and Middle East in the fore. Soccarat at the bottom of the paella dish, tahdig in the Persian rice dishes, nurungji - Korean scorched rice, pega or pegao in South America – the list is damn long. One thing is certain – it’s a delicacy.
I didn’t half struggle to achieve tahdig in my Persian style rice. Take one was burnt-charcoaled. Take two was hardly coloured. Take three looked okay but refused to leave the pan. My mother’s daughter after all?
Baking turned out to be the solution, and according to Persian Mama it’s a legit cooking method. The tahdig is so good I hardly wanted to touch the remaining – delicious – rice. Well, what do you know? Maybe mummy was onto something?
persian baked rice
- 2 cups brown rice
- 2 tbsp. dried barberries
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 yellow or green courgette, diced
- 100g (1 cup) cup mushrooms, sliced
- sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- a few strands of saffron soaked in a little hot water
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 bunch (½ cup chopped) dill, finely chopped
- 1 bunch (½ cup chopped) coriander, finely chopped
- 4 heaped tbsp. full fat or Greek yogurt
- 3 tbsp. groundnut oil
- 2 tbsp. cold butter, diced
- 1 tbsp. toasted almond flakes, to serve
1. Wash the rice in a bowl changing the water at least three times, until it runs clear. Cover with more water and soak for 30 minutes. Soak the barberries in a little hot water.
2. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a skillet; add the garlic, the courgettes and mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring for 5-10 minutes until softened and the released liquid has mostly been absorbed back.
3. Bring at least 2 litres of water to the boil in a large pan. Add 3 tbsp. salt, the turmeric, the saffron with the soaking water and drained rice. Bring to steady simmer and cook for 25 minutes; it will be parboiled but still quite hard. Drain and rinse with lots of cold water to stop it cooking further. Pour it into a large bowl and mix with the courgettes and mushrooms, cinnamon, dill and coriander. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
4. In a smaller bowl mix the yoghurt with about a quarter of the rice (a heaped cup). Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 with a rack in the lowest position. In a baking dish (ideally glass or pyrex as that will allow you to see how the bottom is browning) 30cm round or 23 x 23 square or similar in size, place 3 tbsp. butter and add the oil. Put the dish in the oven for 5 minutes or until the butter starts to sizzle.
5. Remove the dish from the oven with oven gloves and spoon the yoghurt-rice mix over the sizzling butter; spread it over the bottom of the dish evenly. Pile the rest of the rice on top, spread it evenly and jab a knife into the rice to the bottom in a few places to help the steam escape. Dot the top evenly with the cold butter cubes.
6. Cover the dish tightly with double layer of aluminium foil and pierce it with a knife in three or four places. Bake for 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hour – if you’re using a glass dish, the top and sides should be evenly browner but not looking burnt. If your dish is opaque let it sit for the longer time unless it starts to smell like burning.
7. Remove the dish from the oven and take off the foil. Run a knife around the sides of the dish to release the rice. Place a platter or board over the top and invert the dish, praying it comes out intact.
8. You can shake it gently out or, if it is really stuck, just scrape the crusty bits and put back on the rice cake. It will still be as tasty, if not as attractive. Serve sprinkled with toasted almond flakes.