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Persian Rice: Steamed Basmati Persian Rice (Chelo) with Tahdig
Today I want to share with you a recipe for Persian rice (or Middle Eastern) called chelo and the crust that forms on the bottom of the pot is called tahdig. Many home cooks are intimidated by steamed rice. Let’s demystify cooking it. I make white basmati rice the traditional way. No rice cooker necessary!
It took me several tries to get it right but once you learn the steps it is easy. You are going to cook this rice in boiling water, add oil and salt, in the same way you would cook pasta. There is one step that is different from cooking pasta. Persian rice gets steamed. Trust me it is not a big deal! Just imagine that instead of making rice, you are making pasta.
The rule of thumb is ¾ cup per person and 2-3 cups of water per cup of rice, but you want to make at least 2-3 cups to make sure the rice comes out right.
Part I: Cooking the rice: Ingredients: 3 cups rice, 8 cups water, ¼ cup canola or vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon salt. This is for 6 servings.
Part 2: Steaming the rice and making tahdig: ¼ cup oil poured into the bottom of a nonstick pot, and 2 tablespoons water.
To cook the rice: Measure your rice and rinse the rice by placing it in a large bowl of lukewarm water and gently move the rice around. Pour out the water. Repeat 7-8 times until the water is clear. This is a very important step in cooking the rice. Washing the rice removes the starch from the rice. After washing the rice soak it in 6-8 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of salt for at least 30 minutes but no more than 2 hours.
When ready to cook bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Drain the rice. Place the rice in the boiling water (6 quart pot) and cook for about 5-6 minutes. This is a crucial time because you can overcook the rice. Stir the rice a couple of times from the bottom to prevent sticking. Using a slotted spoon scoop some grains from the water around 3-6 minutes. Taste the rice; it should be soft on the outside with a little crunch in the middle.
At this point turn off the heat and drain the rice in a colander and quickly rinse it with 2 cups of cold water to stop additional cooking. Set it aside.
To steam and make tahdig: Place the nonstick pot back on the stove over medium high heat. Add a thin layer of oil (1/4 inch canola oil) and 2 tablespoons of water to the bottom of your nonstick pot. If you don’t have a nonstick pot place a piece of aluminum foil down on the bottom of the pot first.
Mix the oil and water. Spread some rice to cover the bottom of the pot. The rice will create a golden crust, but we will get back to that later. Make sure to cook it slowly by adjusting the heat so the rice does not burn. Add the rest of the rice forming a pyramid. The shape leaves space for the rice to expand. Using the back of a wooden spoon poke 4-5 holes in the rice but make sure you do not go through the bottom layer of rice.
This is done so the steam can come out. Cover the pot and cook on medium high heat for 5-7 minutes until the rice begins to steam. After 7 minutes cover the lid of the pot with a kitchen towel (you can use 3 layers of paper towel also). Cook on medium low for 45-50 minutes. During this time you are steaming your rice.
To serve the rice: Remove the pot from the heat and place it in a wet sink. The dampness will help to detach the crust from the bottom. Take a spatula and gently place the rice on a platter making sure not to disturb the crust. You detach the layer of crust by using a spatula. Place it on a serving plate. You can leave it in one piece or break it into pieces and arrange around the rice.
After cooking Persian rice many times I can now do it without thinking and you will too. This process takes time, patience, and practice but it is well worth it. Cooking for my friends at JMU has been a big part of my JMU experience. Feel free to let me know how it comes out and share your comments or recipes.