How to Make Tahdig
If you like crackly pan scraps, have an appetite for anything extra crispy, or if you prefer your food more darkly tanned than pale, then you must try making tahdig (pronounced tah-DEEG). Tahdig is the panfried layer of crust at the bottom of the rice pot and, in fact, it literally translates as "the bottom of the pot" in Persian. When made well, tahdig looks like a perfectly caramelized disk, and it can be detached from the pot and served whole, or broken into jagged, golden shards. At Iranian family feasts, tahdig is possibly the one dish that will disappear entirely from the table--there are simply no leftovers. Ever. Think of tahdig as Persian "soul food." It's the ultimate in crunchy, golden goodness--somewhere between fried chicken and popcorn--and making it is a skill worth perfecting.
The basic premise of making tahdig is that by putting extra cooking fat in the bottom of the rice pot (or skillet, which is what I use), the bottom layer of the rice gets panfried while the rice above it gets steamed. There are a handful of classic approaches to making tahdig. The simplest is to use plain rice. Another method is to mix the rice with yogurt to give it a thick, pasty texture before spreading it in the pot. Yet another technique is to line the bottom of the pot with a layer of flat lavash bread before topping it with rice.
Both the yogurt and bread methods help ensure that the tahdig comes out intact--they are tricks to help the cook, if you will. The final and perhaps most glorious method of making tahdig calls for adding sliced potatoes to the bottom of the pan. This last is pure embellishment, with no purpose other than making the tahdig even tastier.
You can add a dash of color and flavor to tahdig by sprinkling it with a pinch of turmeric or a pinch of ground saffron steeped in 1 tablespoon hot water, before layering the rest of the rice on top.
With any of the following tahdig methods, you can stir a single whisked egg white into the rice before spreading it over the bottom of the pan. Although it will make your tahdig taste mildly of egg, the egg white ensures that your tahdig will not fall apart.
Note: To make tahdig using a whole grain, simply follow the instructions in Step 1 of the Basic Rice with Tahdig recipe (below). Check the grain as it boils to see when it's almost cooked through, as it will take a whole grain longer than white rice to reach the parcooked stage. When the grain is parcooked, drain it under cold water and proceed with Step 2.
Basic Rice with Tahdig
Makes 5 1/2 cups rice plus one 10-inch disk of tahdig
2 cups white basmati rice
3 tablespoons refined coconut oil, ghee, or grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Step 1: Parcook the rice
Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Swish the rice around a few times, then drain and rinse the rice in cold water until the rinse water runs clear. In a stockpot, combine 8 cups water and 2 heaping tablespoons salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice and return to a boil, uncovered, as it can easily boil over. After 5 minutes, test a grain of the rice by breaking it in half. The rice is ready when it's soft but the center is still opaque and not fully cooked. Drain and rinse the rice under cold water to stop the cooking. Measure out 2 cups rice and set aside.
Step 2: Make the tahdig layer
Heat a deep 10-inch cast-iron skillet or enamel paella pan over low heat for a few minutes. Add the oil (if your skillet is bigger than 10 inches, add an additional 2 tablespoons oil), followed by the 2 cups reserved rice. Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan, and pack it down tightly with an offset spatula or large wooden spoon. Sprinkle the sea salt over the rice.
Step 3: Shape the rice into a pyramid and cook
Add the rest of the rice and shape it into a pyramid. Poke several holes in the rice with a chopstick to let steam escape. Cover and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook the rice for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to very low and place a clean dish towel or damkoni under the lid to catch condensation, and cover the pan tightly. If you have a flame tamer, put it between the burner and the bottom of the skillet to disperse the cooking heat. Cook for 50 minutes.
Step 4: Separate the rice from the tahdig and serve
Lift the lid from the pan. There will be condensation trapped under the lid, so avoid tilting it over the rice and inadvertently pouring the steam water back in. Gently scoop the rice onto a serving platter, making sure not to disturb the tahdig at the bottom. Loosen the sides of the tahdig with a butter knife and flip it onto a plate, or remove it from the pan with an offset spatula. Serve whole or broken in pieces.
From The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, Ten Speed Press 2013.
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