I swore I’d never post this recipe.
It takes longer than 45 minutes. Much longer. Exactly three hours, start to finish. And you might have to venture to a Middle Eastern market (or Amazon) for 2 of the 3 ingredients. This isn’t our usual short and simple recipe.
Time and time again, friends would ask me how to cook Persian rice. I’d share the steps, talking through the unique process of parboiling followed by steaming. When perfectly cooked, each grain of rice stands on its own. The rice isn’t broken, sticky, or clumped together with other grains. The rice isn’t just merely a base for another dish; it’s star of the show too.
And of course there’s tahdig, the golden saffron crust at the bottom of the pot. It’s definitely the most memorable part of Persian rice…and arguably the entire cuisine. One pot may yield enough rice for eight people, but there’s only *one* layer of tahdig. No matter how much rice you make, just know that people are going to leave the dinner wanting more. There’s never enough tahdig, and that’s ok.
Tahdig is the perfect trifecta of patience, ingredient quality, and scarcity.
I have to admit, it’s pretty funny how things come full circle. I grew up eating platters upon platters of Persian rice topped with stews or served alongside kebabs or fish. Rice was always present at every dinner my family hosted.
Confetti Kitchen is all about inspiring people to gather over food, so it only seems right to pay tribute to the dinner party essential that planted the seed for me. (Psst! I’m making it as part of our CK Supper Club Persian Pop-Up – if you’re in SF on 7/23, join us!)
Making Persian rice isn’t hard – it’s just different. I know you saw that total time of 3 hours, but there’s only about 15 minutes of active time! You’ll have a lot of down time while the rice soaks for 2 hours (a very important step) and cooks for nearly an hour. Use that time to tidy up the kitchen, cook other dishes, and hang with your guests.
Nonstick is non-negotiable
There isn’t any fancy equipment required, but you absolutely need a nonstick pot. You don’t want your tahdig to stick to the bottom of the pot. Ideally, it’ll come out in one piece when you flip the pot over a plate at the end of the cooking process. Please – pretty please – do not even bother with this recipe unless you’re using nonstick. In terms of size, a 6-quart Dutch oven works super well for Persian rice. Here’s the nonstick pot I’ve been using for several months now.
Follow the 6 minute rule
With only three real ingredients – rice, saffron, and oil – it seems impossible to mess this recipe up, right? Well not so fast. If you lose track of time or get distracted, you can easily overcook the rice. The overcooked grains of rice become broken and mushy – not ideal. That’s why we’re all about the 6 minute boiling time. Stir and check your rice every minute or so to make sure it hasn’t broken yet, but you should be safe with 6 minutes.
The texture should be similar to al dente pasta; not completely cooked through, with a solid bite in the middle of the rice grain.
…and a bonus recipe!
To go along with the rice, Renee cooked up these flavorful smoky, spiced chicken kebabs. The chicken is marinated in a yogurt-based sauce with smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and more.
Kebabs, whether this recipe or another, are a really great dinner party option since you can make many at a time. If you don’t have a grill, no problem! You can cook them in your broiler, but you’ll have to keep an eye on them since every broiler is different. Some are stronger than others, so you don’t want your skewers to burn!
Consider giving this recipe a try for your next dinner party. Let us know how it went, or better yet, show us a photo by using #confettikitchen on Instagram!
What You Need
4 cups Basmati rice (see Notes for our favorite brand)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (see Notes)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Bowls: 1 large, 1 small
Nonstick pot with lid (at least 6 quarts)
Clean kitchen towel
Fine mesh strainer
Rinse and soak rice.
Add the rice to a large bowl. Rinse the rice under cold water several times, roughly 10-12 cycles. This removes the debris and surface starch that can make the rice sticky.
Soak rice in water and a generous pinch or two of salt for 2 hours.
Roughly an hour before you’re ready to serve the rice, fill a large nonstick pot with water ~2/3 full. Generously salt the water, cover, and bring to a boil.
Once the water is boiling, remove ~1/4 of a cup of hot water and set aside. Drain the excess water from the bowl of rice, then add the rice to the pot. Cook for 6 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
You’ll know it’s done because the grains of rice will be al dente like pasta – go ahead and try one!
Add 3 tablespoons of the reserved hot water to the ground saffron and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
After the 6 minutes is up, transfer the rice to a large mesh strainer. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Wrap the pot’s lid with a tea towel, tying the opposite corners. This is a really important step because the towel catches the excess moisture, keeping the rice fluffy versus soggy.
In the same nonstick pot, over medium-high heat, add the saffron and water mixture. Let it sizzle. Then add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl it all around to evenly coat the bottom of the pan.
Using the spatula, gradually add the rice, first forming a base layer of ~1 inch. Gently pat it down with the flat spatula. Loosely layer the remaining rice into a dome shape (no need to pat).
Use the back of the spatula to poke a few holes, about ⅔ through. This is for the steam to escape. Don’t poke all the way to the bottom of the pot since you want your crispy “tahdig” layer to form.
Cover with the towel-wrapped lid. Turn the heat to medium-high for about 5 minutes to get the bottom crust started. Then reduce to medium-low and cook for another 50 minutes.
Flip, garnish, and serve!
Remove the pot from the heat and let rest covered for 5 minutes. Use the spatula to gently transfer the rice from the pot to a serving platter.
When you’re about an inch from the bottom of the pan, invert the pot onto a large plate. The tahdig should easily come out as one piece. You can serve the tahdig as is or break it up into smaller pieces.
Take your rice to the next level with this easy saffron garnish. In a small bowl, mix some of the cooked rice with the remaining saffron-water mixture. Use this golden rice as a garnish over your platter of white rice. As an optional flavor boost, drizzle some melted butter over the rice, and serve immediately.
Not all basmati rice are created equally. You really want to get a high-quality basmati rice as it’ll be more tolerant and won’t break as easily in the cooking process (broken rice = no good!)
We like the Aahu Barah brand from Pakistan. You can order it via Amazon, but we’ve found it’s actually ~$10 cheaper at my local Middle Eastern market. Note that a 10 pound bag goes a very long way!
A little saffron secret… You’ll typically find saffron sold in thread form, and we recommend buying it from your local Middle Eastern market. We use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind up the saffron into a powder. Use a pinch of plain white sugar to help with the grinding.