Rice (berenj) is the staple of Persian food, and the aromatic Indian Basmati long grain white rice, found in the West, is closest to what people use in Iran. Once cooked it is called polow.
Persians are very specific with how they like their polow; fluffy with fully separated grains. Sticky, clumped up rice is undesirable and a sign of a rookie ashpaz (cook). A couple of practice runs are a must to figure out the trick (gheleghesho peyda kardan) with your cooking variables: stove (heat), pot (container), water and rice.
The common method is to first parboil the rice, then steam it, ’til it is tender and fluffy. Pay close attention to steps 4 and 7.
Instructions to parboil:
- Measure out as many cups of rice needed for your recipe in a bowl.
- Wash several times with cold water, ’til water runs clear.
- Soak overnight (OR for at least 1-2 hrs) with enough cold water to cover (an inch above rice surface) and 1-2 tsp salt. Drain.
- * Place rice in a non-stick pot, add water and some salt and bring to boil. The amount of water here is important; too much and you will end up with mush. The trick my mom taught me is to place your index finger vertically in the water. The water should come halfway up the first crease. Err on less than more.
- Bring to boil on high heat, lower to simmer, cover and cook for (3-10 minutes depending on how long you soaked the rice). Longer soaked rice will require shorter cooking time.
- Stir only occasionally to break up the crust forming at the bottom, for an evenly cooked rice.
- * Check to see if it’s cooked. This is another crucial step and here is how to tell if your rice is ready. Carefully take out one grain and snap it between your fingers. It should have a soft snap. A hard snap could use a minute or two of boiling and no snap means you overcooked it and can expect to have clumps. With practice you will figure out the exact snap to look for.
- Place a colander (with small holes) in the sink. Drain rice.
- Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Making saffron-water ( if desired): dissolve 1/2 tsp of crushed saffron in 3 Tbs hot water. Allow to brew for a couple of minutes.
Instructions to steam:
- Wash the pot with water and return to heat. Add 1-2 TBs of oil/ butter to the bottom of the pot along with 1 Tbs of saffron-water or straight up water. See here if you prefer potato or bread tahdig.
- With a large spatula return the parboiled rice into the pot, form into a dome to get the rice away from the sides of the pot to keep from burning or crusting. Make 4-5 holes in the rice with the bottom of the spatula to release steam.
- Cook on med.-high for 7-10 minutes or ’til the rice starts to steam. Lower heat as much as you can, cover and steam for another 45-60 minutes.
- When it’s done, serve rice on a platter. Take some cooked rice from the top. Mix it with the remaining saffron-water in a bowl. Sprinkle over your white rice.
- The bottom crust is rice tah-dig and served separately in a plate.