To the converted — and I’m not talking about the parboiled stuff — Persian rice is as much about embracing the painstaking process as it is about enjoying the final fluffy results. Persian rice demands a sacrifice of your time, a devotion to specific practices and a willingness to wait for your reward. It’s like the Old Testament God of grain-based dishes.
In the latest Immigrant’s Table, I profile Peacock Cafe chef and owner Maziar Farivar, who describes his journey back into his native Persian cuisine. Among other things, the chef had to learn how to make proper Persian rice — and then teach the method to his mostly Latino kitchen staff.
“For regular rice, we always wash the rice [once],” Peacock Cafe kitchen supervisor Edwin Asencio told me last week. “For the Persian rice, we had to leave it in the water for one hour, and we had to wash it . . . many times.”
“That’s why the grains,” Asencio adds, “they are separate.”
And separate grains are key. You want every single grain of Persian rice to exist independently from its brethren in the bowl, sort of like congressional interns in a group house. But proper Persian rice also sports a crusty bottom layer, known as tahdig, as well as splashes of colorful grains tinted yellow with a saffron solution.
In short, it’s not easy to make Persian rice. It took Iranian native Farivar about a dozen tries to get it right. I had no illusions that my first attempt would go smoothly, as I adapted a recipe from the “Persian Cuisine” cookbook (Mazda, 2006) by M.R. Ghanoonparvar, a professor of Persian and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin.
You can follow the step-by-step recipe after the jump.
Steamed Persian Rice
6 to 8 servings
Adapted from M.R. Ghanoonparvar ’s recipe for chelo in his cookbook, “Persian Cuisine” (Mazda, 2006).
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoons hot water
4 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups extra-long-grain rice (basmati rice will work), rinsed five times in warm water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Use a mortar and pestle to crush the sugar and saffron threads into a fine mixture. Add the hot water and stir to combine.
Fill a large bowl with 8 cups of water and stir in 2 tablespoons of the salt until it dissolves. Add the rice and let it soak for an hour. Drain the rice.
Dissolve the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt in 8 cups of water in a large, nonstick pot and bring the water to a boil. Add the drained rice and boil for 6 to 10 minutes or until the grains are firm, but not crunchy. (The time will vary depending on the quality of the rice.) Stir the pot occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain the rice.
While the rice drains, clean the pot and add 1 tablespoon of melted butter to the bottom. Swirl the butter around to coat the bottom of the pot and about 2 inches up the sides. Spoon the drained rice into the center of the pot, making sure to keep it away from the sides. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke several holes in the rice, all the way to the bottom of the pot. Pour the remaining melted butter over the top of the rice.
Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the pot lid to cover it on all sides, securing the cloth with a clip or a rubber band to make sure it doesn’t fall onto the stove burner. Cover the pot with the towel-encased lid and cook the rice for 10 minutes over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and let the rice steam for another 30 minutes.
When the rice is done, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, scoop out two cups of cooked rice from the top and transfer it to a large resealable food storage bag. Invert a large plate directly over the open pot and hold it tightly in place. Invert the plate and pot together, and allow the rice to drop onto the plate. (Use a spatula to help loosen it, if necessary.) You should have a crusty bottom, which you can break up as you like or leave intact.
Add 8 drops of the saffron solution to the rice in the bag. Seal the bag and shake it vigorously until the rice is evenly tinted yellow. Garnish plated rice decoratively with the saffron rice as you please.
Serve the rice with kebabs or with Farivar’s lamb stew.
Here’s another perspective on how to make Persian rice, from Najmieh Batmanglij.