In contemporary Iran, rice is served at almost every meal. But it hasn’t always been that way. Years ago, rice was considered a luxury ingredient served only at important gatherings and feasts. Its scarcity gave birth to the phrase “lebase polo khori,” which translates to “the outfit you wear to eat rice.”
Numerous legends abound on how tahdig was born, and here’s one: To make sure diners could scoop up the last grains out of the pot so that nothing, not a single grain, went to waste, Iranians started to line the bottom of the pot with bread to prevent rice from burning and possibly being ruined. The covering was to protect precious rice, and that covering is how tahdig, which in Farsi means “bottom of the pot,” was born.
The term can refer to any ingredients that are placed below steamed rice and allowed to crisp on the bottom of the pan. This can include some of the rice itself. In Iran, however, tahdig comes in many styles: classic lavash bread, potatoes, lettuce, carrots and even chicken. Although the cooking process might be slightly different for each variation, the result is always a golden, crispy bottom with fluffy rice on top.
Without fluffy rice — basmati rice works best, as Iranian rice is hard to come by in the United States – there is no tahdig. Rinse the rice thoroughly to get rid of excess starch, and then parboil until the rice is soft on the outside but still firm on the inside. The rice will cook completely while it’s steaming as the tahdig is forming.
With more home cooks trying to make tahdig for the first time, the most common question is probably how to get tahdig out in one piece when flipping the pot. The truth is simple: It doesn’t have to be in one piece.
In an Iranian household, the steamed rice typically is scooped out of the pot and served in one platter, sometimes topped with additional saffron-infused rice, and then the tahdig – that is, the crispy vegetables or chicken on the bottom – is broken into pieces and either placed on top of the rice or served on another platter.
So don’t stress over flipping the rice to get tahdig in one piece. If the crisp pieces must be gently loosened from the pan or if they break up, it’s that much easier for everyone to easily pick a piece to munch on. Unless the rice burns, tahdig never fails.
The key: A nonstick pot
The most important thing you should know when it comes to making tahdig is having the right pot. All you need is a clean nonstick pot. Nonstick pots help the tahdig get crispy without sticking.
A 4- to 5-quart pot should serve well for a family, while something smaller works better for a one- to two-person household. If you don’t own a nonstick pot, just make tahdig using a pot you have. Keep in mind that you may have to use a thin spatula to scrape tahdig off the bottom.
Managing the heat
There is no magic to making the best tahdig, it’s all about practice, knowing your pot and, most importantly, knowing your heat. To make the best tahdig, the heat should be high enough to crisp whatever is at the bottom of the pot, but then lowered enough to keep it from burning.
Practice makes perfect
We offer guidance here, but after making just a couple of batches, you’ll figure out the best settings for your pot and stove. It might take a few tries to make that seemingly elusive crispy tahdig, but if you keep these notes in mind, you might nail it on the first try.
Patience is the key, as there are no tahdig shortcuts. Take your time.
Active: 40 minutes | Total: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Probably the most requested tahdig among Iranians, the crisp golden spud slices make this dish a work of art.
2 ice cubes
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron
2 cups (about 12 ounces) basmati rice
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound, 4 ounces russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup water, or more as needed
1. Place the ice cubes in a small bowl and sprinkle saffron on top. Let sit on the counter until the ice is melted. This will be your bloomed saffron.
2. Place the rice in a colander and wash thoroughly to get rid of the excess starch. Repeat until the water runs clear. (Alternately, place the rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Swish the rice with your hand until the water is cloudy. Drain and repeat until the water remains clear.)
3. Bring a medium pot (preferably nonstick) of water to a rolling boil and add enough salt to the water so that it’s mildly salty, and then add the rice. Cook until the rice is soft on the outside and still hard on the inside, 3 to 4 minutes. Take one grain of rice, and if you can break it into two using your fingertips, it’s ready. Drain the rice and rinse with cold running water to stop the cooking.
4. Return the pot to the stove and turn the heat to medium. Make sure the pot is completely dry, then add 1/3 cup vegetable oil and the bloomed saffron water. Tilt the pot to coat the bottom.
5. Arrange the potato slices in a single layer in the pot and top with the parboiled rice. Form it into a mound, but don’t press it down. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make five holes in the rice for steam to escape. Pour the 1/2 cup of water around the edges, wrap the lid in a clean kitchen towel and cover the pot.
6. Cook about 7 minutes. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup oil over the rice and cover the pot again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the rice and potatoes are fully cooked, about 30 minutes.
7. Taste the rice to make sure it’s cooked through. If the grains are still hard (which is unlikely), drizzle an additional 1/4 cup water over the rice and let steam for 10 minutes more.
8. To serve, transfer the rice to a platter and then carefully lift or scrape the potatoes off the bottom of the pot and place them, crispy side up, on top of the rice.
Nutrition | Calories: 469; Total Fat: 22 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 36 mg; Carbohydrates: 63 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 6 g.
(Recipe from food blogger Shadi HasanzadeNemati.)