Sunday Supper

Crusty Persian rice good to the bottom of the pot

Persian Rice Pilaf With Crisp Crust
Persian Rice Pilaf With Crisp Crust
'Herbivoracious' / Harvard Common Press

Side dish

Persian Rice Pilaf with a Crispy Crust (Chelow with Tahdig)

My family enjoyed this rice dish, adapted from “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin (Harvard Common Press $24.95), with lemon-herb roast chicken and a crisp, citrusy, sauvignon blanc.

2 1⁄2 cups basmati rice

1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter

1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt

1⁄2 cup minced fresh dill, plus a sprig for garnish

1⁄2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1⁄4 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

1 teaspoon saffron crumbled into 2 tablespoons hot water (optional)

Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) or kosher salt

Put the rice in a 5-quart Dutch oven or other good-size pot with a tight-fitting lid, cover with water by a couple of inches, stir in 1⁄4 cup salt, and soak for at least 2 hours. Drain thoroughly.

In the same pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil; add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the rice and boil until the grains are mostly tender with a slight bit of bite in the center, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with warm water. Set the rice aside.

Return the pot to the stove and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir 1⁄2 cup rice into the yogurt-egg mixture. When the butter stops foaming, spread the rice-yogurt mixture evenly over the bottom of the pot; it should immediately start sizzling.

Mound the rest of the rice on top, layering in the herbs and scallions as you go. The rice should look like a small hill in the pot. Use a chopstick to poke a few holes in the mound to allow steam to move. Wrap the pot lid in a dish towel and cover the pot tightly (make sure the towel won’t catch on fire).

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 30 minutes. Taste a few grains to make sure they are fluffy. Use a fork to check that the crust has formed on the bottom of the pot. If not, raise the heat for a couple of minutes.

Scoop most of the rice out onto a serving platter. Mix 1 cup of the rice with the saffron mixture, and spoon it over the plain rice (or mix it in if you prefer). Double-check the crust; if it has not fully formed, cook it a bit longer. It should be deep brown.

Lower the bottom of the pot into a sink full of cool water for a minute, which will help the crust release. Use a spatula to break the beautiful, crispy pieces into big shards and lay them over the saffron rice. Finish with a bit of flaky sea salt and a big sprig of dill. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 357 calories, 22 percent of calories from fat, 8.7 g fat (5.2 g saturated, 2.3 g monounsaturated), 51 mg cholesterol, 6.8 g protein, 63 g carbohydrates, 0.3 g fiber 440 mg sodium (excluding salt absorbed during soaking).

I had wanted to make Persian-style rice for some time, but never got around to it. Then a friend told me she had eaten the most delicious and unusual “crispy” rice dish at an Iranian friend’s home. That was the catalyst for me to begin searching for a recipe.

This dish, made with just basmati rice and a few other ingredients is often called “tahdig” which means “bottom of the pot” where the toasty and golden layer is formed.

In many cultures, the most desired portion of a rice dish is the golden brown (never burned) layer adhering to the bottom of the pot. In Spain the caramelized crust on the bottom of the paella pan is called socarrat, Koreans call scorched rice nurungji, and Dominicans call the crust of rice formed at the bottom of the pot concón. The flavors may differ, but the technique is the same.

It’s not difficult to make but it takes a little practice to get it down precisely. I think you will find the results, as I did, worth the extra effort.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”

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