Rice, you are my weakness! Maybe it's because white rice is such a staple of Persian food, or maybe it’s because growing up I was sure to have white rice at least 5 of the 7 days every week. As much as I read how great brown rice is for you, I just cannot pull myself away from white rice. Especially long grain basmati rice made the Persian way: steamed aka “Chelow”. You have never had steamed rice!!?? Well it’s a good thing I learned my mom’s recipe, because you are in for a treat with this new method of cooking rice. Once you learn how to make “Chelow” you can move onto making “Polow” which is rice that has been cooked the same way as “Chelow” but has either meat, vegetables, beans, or fruit in alternating layers with the rice. But we’ll learn more about that later.
Persian style steamed rice gives you soft loose grains, and the best part is the “Tahdig” that forms at the bottom. Tahdig is the rice at the bottom of the pot that becomes crunchy, but many Iranians place a layer of "Lavash" bread on the bottom of the pot as well. Both forms of tahdig are delicious, and of course the more butter you use to fry that first layer of rice ( or lavash bread) the better it will be. Yes I said it, deal with it. You can find lavash bread at Persian stores, international food stores, and sometimes even local organic stores carry a version of lavash. Another variation of “Chelow” is using saffron. Yes, I know saffron is quite expensive at $500 to $5000 a pound depending on the quality, but if you really want to indulge just buy a few strands from your local market, like Whole Foods. A few strands can go a long way.
For the below recipe though I left the lavash bread out, but I did use saffron.
Chelow ( Steamed Rice)
Prep & Cook Time: About 1 hour 30 min.
2 cups long grain basmati rice
1 tbs. salt
½- ¼ tsp. ground saffron, dissolved in 3-4 tbs. hot water. ( optional)
½ cup butter
1- In a large pot wash the rice several times in water gently with your hand, pouring out
the water after each wash.
2- Once washed, pour water over the rice. Instead of using a measuring cup here is an easier way to measure the water. Put the tip of your index finger on the rice in the pot. Pour in water until it reaches the crease in your finger where is meets your palm.
3- Add the salt and a dollop of the butter.
4- Bring to boil, and boil for about 6-10 minutes, or until the grains are soft. Stir the rice once or twice to make sure the grains are not sticking.
5- Drain rice in a colander and rinse with 1 or 2 cups of cold water to stop the rice from continuing to cook.
6- Using the same pot, on medium melt the remaining butter and add the saffron water if you are using it. Let cook for about 30 seconds and then pour the contents into a small bowl leaving about 2 tbs. of the butter/saffron mixture in the pot. If you are not using saffron water then leave 1 tbsp of the melted butter in the pot.
7- Taking one spatula full at a time of the drained rice, place the rice back in the pot forming it into a pyramid. This helps with the steaming process and forming the Tahdig at the bottom.
8- Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
9- Reduce heat to medium-low, remove the lid and pour the remaining saffron water/butter mixture ( or just the melted butter) over the rice.
10- Place a couple layers of paper towels, or a clean dish towel ( I prefer the paper towels) over the pot and then put on the lid, making sure the lid fits tightly so that no steam is released.
11- Cook for about 45-50 minutes.
12- Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes so that the Tahdig can separate from the pot.
13- To serve, you can either just scoop out of the pot onto each plate leaving the Tahdig intact till the end. Or you can invert the pot onto a plate so that it looks like a cake with the Tahdig on top. In Iranian homes you will most likely see the rice served on a large platter with about a spatula full of rice on top which has been mixed with saffron water to give it that golden yellow/orange color.