When I say Samin Nosrat’s crackling, golden Persian-ish rice is foolproof, I mean it mostly in the ways you’d expect.
I mean it in the sense that, even though I’d never before tried the art of making my own tahdig (that prized, crispy bottom-of-the-pot layer of scorched rice), by following Samin’s precise, encouraging steps, I—the titular fool to be proofed against—have been buoyed to success.
I’ve turned out batch after batch, with different stovetops and pans and roller-coastering levels of attention. Every time, my tahdig is proud, pristine, and scarfed up immediately.
Some of this warm welcome comes from the clear, friend-at-your-side writing in all of Samin’s recipes, and some is thanks to that -ish. “Since traditional Persian rice can take years to perfect and hours to make,” Samin explains in her now many-times-over bestselling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, “I’m including this Persian-ish variation, which I accidentally devised one night when I found myself with a few extra cups of just-boiled basmati rice on my hands.”
When I asked her for more specifics on the -ish, she laughed: “The -ish was insurance, so that when Persians and Iranian-Americans looked at it and didn’t see all of the steps, they wouldn’t yell at me for trying to advertise it as super-traditional rice—although, I have to say, it’s pretty close.”
The -ish breaks down to three unconventional tricks that give beginners a boost:
1. A Shallower Pan
Not everyone has the deep, nonstick pot many Iranians rely on. But most home cooks will have a nonstick (or very well-seasoned cast-iron) skillet.
Better still, this means you can easily peek at the sides of the rice, which Samin uses as clues for how the invisible, precious bottom of the pot is faring—first, by watching for bubbles of oil flickering at the sides, then watching them darken and crisp.
2. Going Lidless
Traditionally, the pot would be covered with a lid wrapped in a towel, which you can see Samin and her mom do in the Heat episode of the Netflix series based on the book. By uncovering the pan, not only is even more of the mystery removed, potentially bottom-sogging excess steam can escape, too. The tahdig crisps happily in its absence. This flexibility leads us to -ish point 3.
3. A Longer Dunk
Cooking the rice in an uncovered pan might sound like a formula for underdone rice (to steam rice, don’t you need … steam?). To compensate, Samin cooks her rice a little further in the parboiling step, so the grains are already al dente before you pause the cooking with cold water. Then, as they sizzle in the skillet, the lingering steam wafting through gently finishes plumping the grains, without any chance of leftover chalky rice patches.
Beyond these three tricks, Samin’s recipe also thoughtfully spells out the whys of the dance moves you might see pop up in other Persian rice recipes, from salting the water for parboiling the rice (very, very) well to giving the pan a quarter-turn a handful of times as the bottom is crackling, a technique her mom swears by for an evenly golden tahdig.
You’ll take all her lessons with you when you try your hand at more traditional Persian rice recipes (for Nowrooz, the upcoming Persian New Year, for example, I’d suggest her herby sabzi polo from the New York Times).
But maybe most important of all is what actually makes the recipe foolproof: It’s not that she’s promising it will come out perfectly—a shiny shellack of rice landing in front of you every time—tempting as it would be to say so. It’s that, even if your tahdig breaks apart as you tip it from the pan, or looks more like a blotchy leopard patchwork of hot spots, that’s fine.
As she writes in her final step, “Do what every Persian grandmother since the beginning of time has done: Scoop out the rice, chip out the tahdig in pieces with a spoon or metal spatula, and pretend you meant to do it this way. No one will be the wiser.”
• 2 cups basmati rice
• 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
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