How to cook the perfect rice

Parisa Hashempour 22 August 2021

There's only one way to cook rice, and you're probably doing it wrong

Rice, as any Iranian worth their tahdig will attest, is sacred. It forms the backbone of cuisines across the Middle East and perfecting it is a rite of passage. Unlike in Britain, where rice comes in a superabundance of soggy forms, dry, or steamed, long grain rice is the Iranian choix du jour every day, and rightfully so. With a little TLC, and extra time spent beside the stove, rice has the power to heighten a whole dish.

After 27 years of life, rice-cooking is an art form I have yet to completely master. But the process of learning to perfect steamed white rice and what we call tahdig — the crispy carby layer at the bottom of the pan—has become a surprisingly meaningful way for me to reconnect with my father’s culture. As the half-Iranian daughter of a first generation migrant, it’s become something I can share with my British friends while simultaneously feeling closer to family abroad. Now, I’m going to share my culinary secrets with you. Because frankly, there’s only one way to cook rice—and you’re probably doing it wrong. 

"Because frankly, there’s only one way to cook rice—and you’re probably doing it wrong"

Disclaimer: this way of cooking rice is a lengthy process, but it can be shortened for the lazy cook. More extravagant versions can be made by adding barberries to serve with chicken, or dry dill and broad beans to serve with fish.

Most important though, is the crunchy layer at the bottom of the pan. By adding oil, the rice at the bottom transforms into a golden crisp. Tasting a little like popcorn, you can add bread, potato — or even pasta! — to create your own unique twist.

Here’s how to make it like my maman bazorg…

Amount: 3 - 4 people

Time: up to 1 hour 20

Equipment

  • Nonstick pot with a lid
  • Fine mesh colander
  • Dishcloth (for steaming)
  • Large bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of basmati rice
  • Salt
  • Boiled water
  • 2 tbsp of any vegetable oil
  • Optional: carb of choice—use anything you have in the house: a small tortilla, traditional Iranian lavash bread found at Middle Eastern supermarkets, torn up slices of leftover bread, or thinly sliced potatoes
  • Optional: 1 large pinch saffron threads

The recipe

  1. Rinse your rice in cold water using a sieve and bowl, repeating until water runs clear. Then fill the bowl with water, salt well, and let your rice soak while the kettle boils. If you have time, allow your rice to sit like this for 20 - 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, grind saffron threads using a pestle and mortar, add 3 tablespoons of hot water, mix, and set aside.
  3. Drain rice in the sieve and add it to the pot, bringing it to a medium heat over the stove. Fill the pot with boiling water from the kettle. The pot should be filled as much as possible to ensure there is enough water to prevent the rice from soaking it up. Add a dash of salt and mix well to prevent sticking. Boil the rice until it is partially cooked. It should still have some bite to it, but break easily between your fingers. Time taken will depend on the rice, so keep a close eye. But this should take no longer than 7 minutes or so.  
  4. Take the pot off the stove and drain the rice. Rinse through with cold water to remove all remaining starch. Taste and add salt if needed.
  5. Leaving the rice to drain, take your pot and add the vegetable oil. If desired, add your carb to the bottom of the pan for crisping. Place on the stove at a high heat for 30 seconds or so, then reduce heat to medium.
  6. Add the rice to the pot, making 10 holes in the rice with the bottom end of your fork, allowing the rice to steam. Drizzle saffron mixture over the rice and cover the pot with a lid wrapped in a dishcloth to make sure no heat escapes. You can use a hair tie or elastic band to keep the dishcloth together over the lid.
  7. Allow the rice to steam for 10 minutes on medium heat and then reduce to low, leaving it for around 30 minutes. You will hear it crackling when it is ready for serving.
  8. Finally, take your pot off the stove, remove the lid and hold your breath — this is the magic moment. Take a plate and turn your pot upside down to empty the contents. Knock the bottom of the pan a few times with a fork, and if you are lucky your rice will slip out, with a golden crispy layer, now on top.

TIP: If you would like to add barberries (for Zereshk Polo), heat them in a pan with 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Then stir them through the pot when the rice is ready, before serving.

Read more: Chicken parma recipe

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