In the rather large, colorful canon of Iranian dishes, one has consistently tugged at the heartstrings of locals, no matter their social status or religious credo: the tahdig. The scorched rice dish cooked at the bottom of a rice pot over direct heat from a flame is an Iranian specialty (“tah” translates to “bottom” and “dig” means “pot” in Farsi) that has been reproduced and reclaimed across culinary genres for ages.
- 2cups basmati rice, soaked in cold water for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours
- 3tablespoons olive oil
- Large pinch saffron ground and steeped in 1 tablespoon warm water
- Dash turmeric, optional
- 1tablespoon butter, broken in a few pieces, plus extra
- Step 1
Drain the rice and rinse it under cold water. In a stockpot, combine 8 cups of water and 2 heaping tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice and return to a boil, uncovered. After a few minutes, test a grain of rice by breaking it in half. The rice is ready when it’s still a little chewy and not fully cooked, like al dente pasta. Drain the rice and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside 2 cups of rice.
- Step 2
Heat a deep 10” cast-iron skillet for a couple of minutes over low heat, then add the oil. Put the two cups of reserved rice in the skillet, followed by 1 teaspoon of the saffron water, the turmeric if using, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir everything together, then spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the skillet, and pack it down tightly with an offset spatula or a large wooden spoon. Heap the rest of the rice into the center of the skillet, coaxing it away from the sides.
- Step 3
Poke five holes in the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon, without touching the tahdig layer on the bottom. Drizzle the remaining saffron water over the rice. Scatter the butter and a half teaspoon of salt on top. Cover tightly. Turn up the heat to medium and cook for 7 minutes. The rice and saffron water will sizzle and pop. Turn the heat down to low and place a heat diffuser under the skillet. Place a towel or damkoni under the lid and cover tightly. Cook for 40 minutes.
- Step 4
Fill the sink with ice water an inch deep, and place the bottom of the skillet in the water to loosen the tahdig. Check to see how easily the tahdig will come out by going around it gently with an offset spatula or butter knife. Place a dish towel down on the countertop.Take a round pan or platter and place it on top of the skillet. Wearing oven mitts, firmly hold the skillet together with the pan, and flip so that the pan is on the dish towel. Carefully remove the skillet. Voila!
- Step 5
Show off the tahdig to your guests, then slide it onto a cutting board and cut it into pieces. Serve the rice and tahdig on separate platters. Garnish the rice with extra butter if desired.
Note: Depending on the size of your skillet or pot, you may need more than 2 cups of rice to cover the bottom.