Persian Rice 101: How to Make the Perfect Persian Rice
Making the perfect Persian rice is a tall order. (As illustrated in detail here, here, & here!) BUT, despair not. “LET us go then, you and I,” holding hands, step-by-step, and do what it takes to crack this culinary juggernaut.
You’ll Need These Tools:
- A slotted spatula (something that looks like this: kafgir)
- A sturdy colander (with small slots to prevent grains slipping out when drained)
- A roomy non-stick pot with a lid
- A clean kitchen towel to wrap up the lid (Why? How?)
… AND These Ingredients:
- 4 cups (1 cup per/person) of the best quality long-grain rice (Quality Matters!)
- Saffron – a few pinches
- 1/3 cup plain yogurt (this is for making the tadig)
- 5+ tablespoons olive oil (or ghee if you’re ambitious and driven)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)
- Use filtered water throughout the process if at all possible
This step is described in exhaustive & illustrative detail here – but in a nutshell:
- Rake rice: Spread rice grains in a tray; rake with fingers to pick out unwanted bits or grit – if any. Skip this step if you have confidence in the quality of your rice.
- Wash rice: Transfer rice to a bowl. Fill with cold water. Grab fistfuls of rice and gently scrub between palm of hands; drain, rinse, refill with cold water. Repeat this process until rice runs pristine when rinsed – it usually takes 3-5 times. (Washing rice removes starch and prevents rice grains from getting sticky.)
- Soak rice: Refill bowl one last time with enough cold water to cover 1″ over the grains. Add 2 tablespoon of salt and soak rice for at least 2 and up to 24 hours. (Salt water adds flavor, plumps up the grains, and reduces stickiness.)
- PREP: Drain rice once it has soaked for the desired length of time and set it aside. Place the colander in the sink and make sure you have your potholders nearby. Optional: place a carafe of lukewarm water by the sink (to rinse rice with in step 7.)
- Bring 8 cups of water + 2 tablespoons of salt to a vigorous boil.
- Dip bowl of rice into the boiling water, releasing grains into the pot.
- Return to a furious boil. Dip in an empty bowl to remove 2 cups of this boiling water – and set it aside. (Don’t trap any rice grains, don’t burn your hands!)
- As rice is boiling, stir a few times, gently, with the spatula to loosen any stuck grains; and also use the spatula to skim & discard the foam.
- A few minutes into the boiling (3-4 minutes would be good) gradually pour back the 2 cups of water you earlier set aside. (This is my mom’s technique to mellow the boiling temperature as a safeguard against overcooking the rice.)
- When rice grains are al-dente drain rice in the colander. (Please read the note just below!)
- Promptly follow by rinsing rice with approximately 4 cups of cool/tepid water. (Either use the carafe of water prepped for this purpose, or simply use the pot to pour water over the rice.)
- Sample a few rice grains: if too salty, rinse rice with more water to reduce saltiness to taste.
- Leave rice to cool its heels in the colander while you attend to the next step.
When is rice al-dente and ready to be drained in the colander? Rice is al-dente when it’s no longer crunchy but still firm – not soft or mushy. It can take anywhere from 6-12 minutes of boiling rice to get this desired al-dente texture. Precise timing varies – depending on: type of rice; geographical altitude & humidity; and a given stove’s heat settings. TIP: A test used by the novice and expert rice-maker alike is to to take a few grains as rice is boiling and either bite into or press grains between fingers to test its texture. If uncertain, best to err on the crunchy side (as it still has a fighting chance to come out alright) than over-boiled grains (pretty much done for as far as that whole fluffy business goes.) But ultimately: No Worries! Practice makes perfect and here’s a huge silver-lining even if you make a mistake: the rice will still be quite delicious!
- Combine yogurt and a pinch of ground saffron with 2 spatulas of rice taken from the colander. Gently mix with a fork. (Take care not to smoosh the rice grains.)
- Wash and dry the pot you used to boil the rice. Combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 cup of water in the pot and heat till ab va roghan (the oil & water liquid, that is) is sizzling hot.
- Once sizzling, remove pot from the stove and set on a counter. Promptly spoon in the yogurt+saffron+rice mixture, and gently and evenly spread it with a spatula. This bottom-of-the-pot-mixture (if all goes well and the almighty force is with you) will become your glorious golden crispy (TA-DA!) … TADIG.
The yogurt and saffron and rice mixture is a good and oft-used base for making a nicely-colored, tasty tadig. It is also common practice to make tadig using either sliced potatoes or lavash bread (a type of flat bread.) Additionally, there are some interesting albeit off-the-beaten-path tadig bases as well. Much more to be said on this topic! The tasty oeuvre and delicate art of tadig-making to be covered with due deference and in loving detail at a later time.
- With the tadig-mixture in place, layer the rest of the rice in the pot; either spatula by spatula, or by tilting the colander and gradually pouring the rice into the pot.
- Go around the edge of the pot with the spatula and gently push the rice away and up; shaping the rice in the form of a hilltop mound or pyramid. (While doing this, do NOT mix the white rice with the yogurt+saffron+rice mixture on the bottom of the pot that is the base for the tadig. Leave that layer entirely unperturbed.)
- Dig several wells in the mound of rice using your spatula’s handle: one in the center, and a few around it.
- Wrap the lid with a towel and firmly press down on the pot – leaving no gaps for steam to escape. (Detailed Instruction – Animated Gif.)
- Cook on *medium-high* heat for 10-12 minutes until steam rises. (The traditional test to find out if rice has sufficiently steamed is to wet index fingertips and touch the pot: if the contact touch makes a nice “bizzzzzzz” sound that means the rice is indeed steaming.) While this is happening, heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil or butter or ghee.
- Once rice has steamed, reduce heat to low and lift the lid. Pour the hot oil (or butter, or ghee) evenly over the rice, then replace the lid firmly back on the pot. (Generally speaking, Iranians favor this practice of adding oil to the rice at this stage as it makes the rice “charbo va narm,” that is: glistening and succulent. My mother, however, routinely omits it which results in a drier but healthier and still quite tasty fare. If you wish to similarly skip this part, no need to remove the lid after rice steams, simply reduce heat once rice steams, and proceed to the next step.)
- Cook rice for 90 minutes over low heat. (After 60 minutes rice is done -that is if all you want is polo – but if you want the tadig, and you are no fool so OF COURSE you want the tadig, you need to let rice cook for another 30 or so minutes.)
- Once the 90 minutes are up, turn off the heat, but leave the pot on the stove for a few minutes (DO NOT lift the lid, not even a little, not even once. In fact, you are not supposed to lift the lid until step #4 below.)
- Meanwhile, rinse a kitchen cloth and spread it out on a counter-top.
- Place the pot on this damp dishcloth — the contact touch will hopefully make a nice “fiiiiissssss” sound. That’s a good sign! Leave pot to cool on this damp surface for 5 minutes.
Persian rice is best served immediately – when it is at the peak of its glory. Serving rice has its own set of protocol. Of course it does! Here it goes:
- While rice is cooling off, dissolve a pinch or two of saffron in 2-4 tablespoons of hot water in a medium sized bowl.
- Remove the lid – finally! Inhale the perfection of your handiwork but don’t get too entranced because there’s still a bit of work left to do. Namely: Add a spatula of rice to the bowl of saffron-water you just made and gently mix. Set this saffron-colored-rice aside for now to use just a bit later as garnish for the rice.
- Pile rice up in a serving platter – one spatula at a time, working your way from the top of the mound and not disturbing the tadig – and cajole rice in the shape of a hilltop mound. Now take that saffron-colored-rice-mixture you made earlier and evenly sprinkle it over the rice as a pretty garnish.
- Optional: At this point, those wishing for a heightened degree of decadence may douse 2 or more tablespoons of melted butter over the rice. My mom almost always does this — and her eyes sparkle when she explains how this step gives “such a beautiful sheen” to the final dish.
- Finally, it’s ta-da tadig time! Use the spatula/kafgir to detach and extradite tadig to its own platter to be served alongside with the fluffy rice. Try not to crush tadig into too many pieces, if possible.
Final thoughts re polo va cholo and the whole Persian rice making business :
I went into excruciating detail so that you know all the ins and outs (what we Persians call “khamoo va cham”) of the intricately-protocoled-method of Persian rice making so as to increase your odds of success. For those of you new to this admittedly technique-driven process, I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you — and would like to reassure you that the learning curve is truly not steep. It’s simply a question of practicing a few times and building expertise and body memory and before you know it, the entire thing becomes second nature to you.
This brings our Persian rice polo making odyssey (my, it was a long journey) to an end of sorts, but not to “The End” — there’s still the matter of kateh (the easy but non-slutty cousin of polo) and an “All About Tadig” post, and a post about how to hack a plain polo into something quite fancy; and finally a post about making rice with electric cookers. But frankly my dears, I’ve had it with writing about rice and need to chillax and take a break from it; and this here is a good place to put up the tent and camp out for a leisurely & thoughtful spell of a “berenj” sabbatical.
Meanwhile, go forth and make polo!