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The Art of Persian Rice

Learn the unique technique behind this revered side dish.

April/May 2016 Issue
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My father is originally from Iran, so I grew up casually familiar with the artistry of Persian rice. By that, I mean it was a staple of my childhood eating in Philadelphia along with all kinds of American food and other Iranian essentials.

My father cooked Persian rice on the weekends, when he could devote some time to it. Though much of the work is hands off, it takes almost two hours start to finish. This elegant but basic white rice (chelo in Farsi), flavored simply with lots of butter and a little saffron, accompanied rich stews, kebabs, and even good old roast chicken.

What’s a Damkoni?

A damkoni is a padded cloth that fits under the lid of a pot to catch condensation as rice steams. A Persian invention, it looks like a shower cap, and the ones made in Iran come in really bright colors and quirky patterns. A clean kitchen towel makes a fine substitute, but a damkoni is handy because it wraps around the lid without any cloth hanging down near the heat source.

The traditional method my father followed, which I’m sharing here, includes parboiling fragrant long-grain rice, and then steaming it without additional liquid. This two-step process makes the rice lighter and fluffier than if it were cooked only once in simmering water. My father was also sure to cook the rice in such a way that a crisp golden crust formed on the bottom. Called tahdig (tah-DEEG), which is Farsi for “bottom of the pot,” the crust would ideally come out of the pot as a whole round disk for us to break apart and eat along with the fluffy rice. My sister and I thought tahdig tasted like an ideal mix of popcorn and potato chips. Needless to say, we loved it, and there was never any left over after dinner.

Tahdig doesn’t happen without some prodding; the rice needs to be pressed into the bottom of the pot and then cooked until crisp. Getting the whole tahdig out of the pot in one piece is not a guarantee, but it still tastes crunchy and buttery if it comes out in pieces. (Adding a little yogurt, as directed in the variation at the end of the Persian Saffron Rice recipe, can help, too.)

While my father always followed certain steps to make his wonderful rice, it wasn’t until I started cooking professionally that I researched Persian rice to understand the reasons behind his methodical ways. What I learned is that none of the steps is arbitrary.

In the following slideshow, you’ll find the recipe as well as photos illustrating the steps and the whys behind them. Although the process may seem involved, I promise that it’s actually really fun to do, and the results are worth it. Just ask my father.


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