Persian Rice 101: Rake, Wash, Pray

WASH-Rice

“Persian rice is hands down the best rice in the world. For me it was a revelation, tender, each grain separate, and saffron makes it over the top delicious.” Suzanne

PROLOGUE

By now I’ve waxed poetic about polo, kateh, and tadig; and have also talked about a few tricks of the trade that would be useful to know before embarking on the Persian-rice-making journey; and believe it or not, this train – slowly chugging along – is getting close to the “Here’s How You Make Polo” station.

But before we choo choo choo to our final (perhaps mythical) destination – let’s linger just a bit at this station and stretch our limbs and get a snack maybe and also quickly go over the first step in making a beautiful polo, namely:  properly cleaning the rice.

It’s practically a ceremonial ritual and here it goes:

1.  RAKE THE RICE!

I can hear you going:  “HUH?”  No worries. The animated Gif (bottom of page) should hopefully shed some light. This is an optional step and it goes thus:

  • Spread rice (1/2 to 1 cup per person) in a shallow tray; rake through with fingers to fish out any misfit stray particles — i.e. grit, dried out grains, or anything that is not a rice grain!  Called jooridan in Persian (“raking” is the best translation I can think of) this used to be a prudent necessity in the olden days but may now be a fastidious step considering the quality of modern rice packaging.  For the sake of cultural archival thoroughness (plus nostalgic reasons:  as I recall both my grandmothers doing this and love the comforting white noise the fingers and rice grains make, and mom continues to do it, admittedly by habit even while shrugging in agreement that it honestly no longer serves a practical purpose) I’m including it. Not all that we do has to be driven by logic and this step is the traditional way to begin the process of polo making.  Feel free to skip it entirely if you do not have occasion to suspect alien bits and pieces in your bag of rice and if the sound of rice grains being flicked around in a tray do not move you – not even one bit.

2.  WASH RICE TILL WATER RUNS CLEAR

Here’s how:

  • Place rice grains in a big bowl, fill with cold water to cover, swish rice around.  The water instantly turns murky – that’s perfectly normal – and the whole point of this step is to de-murk the water.  (Isn’t de-murking a word?  It should be.  I often have occasion to wish to de-murk my thoughts.)  Place hands inside the bowl, grab a fistful of rice, and scrub grains by very gently rubbing your hands together a few times, then tilt bowl in the sink, drain the murky water, and refill with clean cold water.  Repeat this process until water remains pristine and clear enough to see your reflection!  It usually takes 3 to 5 scrub/drain/refill cycles to get the rice this thoroughly clean.

But you might be wondering – WHY must I wash the rice?  You may be thinking — I have things to do and places to go to – is this tomfoolery truly necessary?  In which case, let’s stress that, yes, you must, and yes, this is not a frivolous step.   Rice grains are coated in starch dust — the very substance that turns the water murky.  Washing rice until it runs crystal clear rids it of this starch allowing for rice grains to keep separated when cooked — thus preventing a sticky-grains polo situation, which as we’ve come to know, is cause for grievous lamentation & dramatic hair-pulling when it comes to Persian rice.

3.  SOAK RICE IN LIGHTLY SALTED WATER

Here’s how:

  • Once water runs clear as a mirror when rinsing rice, drain and refill bowl one last time with enough cold water to cover 1″ or more over the rice grains.  (If possible, it would be ideal to use filtered water at this stage.)  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and gently stir.  Soak rice for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours in the salt water.

Why soak the rice?   Salt water adds flavor, plums up & lengthens the grains, and helps reduce stickiness.  So while some (frankly uninformed) recipes for polo tout it as an optional step, soaking rice is indeed and in fact an essential step in making a good Persian rice by improving the odds of obtaining fluffy, non-sticky, long-limbed beautiful rice.

Tip:  Soaking rice overnight is a good way to get a head-start on the entire polo-making-process and a common practice.)

That’s it for washing rice. This GIF should hopefully clarify any ambiguities:

How-to-Prep-wash-Persian-rice-animated-Gif-polo-polow-Iranian-food-fig-quince

NEXT STOP

Our final destination — “Making Polo!”  Finally!  ALL ABOARD!

Choo choo choo choo choo choo …

[PS.The title of this post is an allusion to Eat, Pray, Love — an exuberant book (kind of the exact opposite of Sartre’s Nausea!) and a huge best-seller for a long time so odds are you don’t need me to tell you to go read it but if you haven’t – then go read it.  Really.]

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46 thoughts on “Persian Rice 101: Rake, Wash, Pray

  1. Fresh fava beans in just now in season down here, sorry I’m going to have to wing it and jump ahead of you, can’t resist them in polo.

    • Ha ha, I don’t blame you. Have you tried fava beans, steamed & seasoned with angelica powder, Persian style? If not, give that a try as well, it’s delicious and healthy. My mom calls it the Persian edemame. Good luck and bon apetit with your fave bean rice.

      • No I haven’t tried fava that way. Golpar is hard to find here, and hard to explain to non stockists but I did find dried petals/leaves (?) at an out of the way Iranian grocer. In this town it’s necessary to travel around to assemble special ingredients, not many one stop shops, but they can be found. Good time of year now for foodstuffs with Ramadan approaching, fast all day and eat delicacies all night.

      • Oh perfect, so then just grind those and you’re good to go. It’s so cool that you’re so into fully exploring the cuisine of other cultures. Give this earlier post a read – it’s about eating fava beans Persian style with a little bit about golpar – perhaps it may be of interest: https://figandquince.com/2012/04/30/baghali-pokhteh-cooked-fava-beans-persian-edamame/ And ah yes, Ramadan! I should do a post about it. Ross, are you into photography? You should chronicle your culinary adventures and post them

  2. I learned to wash and soaked rice in water with Anissa Helou and since then I have do in it that way even for not persian recipes. Grains become longer and sometimes extremely longer just for that soaking time. ¡¡Great post!!

    • Ah, El Oso con Bostas, thank you and thank you for visiting! Great point about grains growing in length – indeed in Persian this aspect is called “growing taller” or “ghad keshidan” … & you reminded me that I plum forgot to include this benefit of washing/soaking as well, and will edit to include.

    • Whoa, Patty, how did you get this Persian rice eating opportunity? Inquiring minds would like more detail! 😉 I’m happy you like the post and find the instructions clear. I know you’ll do Persian rice justice!

      • I attended our local Islamic Center of New Mexico open house. I was invited by some friends through our church and took four people with me. It was a great event and that’s where I spotted the saffron rice!

    • Thank you dear Fae! I had a feeling you’d notice the “tattoo” he’s bug crazy at the moment – I’ll alert the bug boy re your comment

  3. Maybe I am the only one but I didn’t enjoy Eat, Pray, Love. I found it entirely self indulgent, shallow, incredibly selfish and a sad indictment to self over community but I am pretty bolshie ;). Love the rice! love Love LOVE the rice! Makes up for the book more than enough for me to stop dissing it 😉

    • You’re definitely not the only one who didn’t like the book, in fact I was tempted to hint about it in the post. I’ve read similar types of critics of the book and the writer but I do disagree. I think one of the reasons it was such a huge bestseller is that people read it – those who loved it and those who hated it.

      Ah rice! Bringing us all together! 😉

      • Darned right rice does :). Loved this post and will be trying to emulate your rice technique and will test it on Steve soon 🙂

    • Hi! Wow! I’m so flattered that while you are out and abouting in such a major way you visit and comment. Thank you. As for the actual recipe for making the gosh darn polo, it is next Monday!

  4. I thought the bugs were your newest tattoos! Then I noticed your mother’s hands in there, and suddenly thought the pudgy little fingers couldn’t be yours.
    – Looking forward to the next instalment. In the meantime the next time I cook rice I will try soaking it, especially as El Oso con Botas does it as well. The Spanish do like their rice!

    • lol! Johnny, I have no tattoos alas, and yup the pudgy hands belong to a creature far more enchanting that I can hope to be.

      I don’t know much about Spanish cuisine yet (beginning to get acquainted) but El Oso con Botas food looks truly glorious – I would follow all his tips as well.

  5. Using GIFs really works well BTW. So much better than the dodgy video treatments so often employed in cooking instructions on the net.

    • You know, they are so MUCH more time consuming to make though and I mostly do it because WordPress asks for a fee to give video embedding option and I’m too ornery and cheap to do it. So necessity and .. invention and … all that jazz.

      But short answer: thank you! 🙂

    • I’m really glad to hear it. I worry it may be too much information but it’ll pay off in the end, I hope. But I can’t wait for this series to end so I can talk about something else, like … pretty strawberries and yummy cheddar biscuits 😉

  6. I can totally picture your grandmother and your mother raking the rice. What a wonderful tradition! Lovely post: easy to follow and very funny as always. Totally on board for the final destination. Choo choo … 🙂

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