I call it crusty rice but no google search will spew up anything under that moniker. Its proper name is Tah Dig or, in English, a more poetic Golden crust rice. If well prepared, it’s a delicious mixture of fluffy rice, herbs and a crunchy crust, which is the best part. So much more satisfying than plain steamed or even fried rice. The problem is that it takes a bit of trial and error before getting the hang of it, which is why I don’t make it often. It is definitely more labor intensive than putting some rice in a cooker and forgetting all about it. But the rewards are worthy.
My first meal of Spring turned out spectacular, in the way some meals do when everything aligns properly, even if assembled at the last minute. The trout filled with herbs, walnuts, orange juice and pomegranate molasses was the most tasty I ever had; the kale with tomatoes and Ancho chile (ok, more Mexican than Persian) a nice change from my standard roasted vegetables but it was the rice that crowned everything. We just couldn’t stop eating it.
I believe the original version calls for dill and cilantro, two herbs I am not fond of, so I used parsley. Turmeric can be used in place of saffron, to which I am partial. Make the rice before you start making the rest of the meal so that, while you are cooking your protein or vegetables, you can turn the pan for even browning, every 10 minutes or so.
2 C Basmati rice
5 T Butter, divided
2 Leeks, finely chopped
pinch Saffron, diluted in a couple of spoons of warm water
1 C Parsley, finely chopped
3 T Greek yogurt
3 T Neutral oil, like canola or grape seed
- Rinse the rice under cold water four or five times, until the water runs clear, and then let the rice soak for 30 minutes.
- Cook the rice in plenty of heavily salted water for about 7 minutes, until the rice is firm and al dente.
- While the rice is cooking, fry the leeks in a couple of tablespoons of butter, on medium heat in a large cast iron skillet (you can use a non stick pan too). Add a pinch of salt and cook until the leeks are tender but not brown. Wipe the skillet clean.
- Drain the rice and place it in a large bowl. Add the leeks, saffron and parsley. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove about a cup of rice and mix it with the yogurt.
- Place the skillet back on the stove, on medium heat, and add the remaining butter and the oil. When the butter is melted spread the rice-yogurt mixture in a thin layer, then pile the rest of the rice on top. Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5 holes around the perimeter and a hole in the center. You should see the oil bubbling underneath. If the sides look dry, pour a little bit of oil on the sides. Let cook for 10 minutes, turning the skillet a quarter turn halfway through.
- Wrap a lid with a kitchen towel and cover the skillet. Keep cooking for another 30 to 45 minutes, turning the skillet a quarter of a turn every ten minutes or so. Check the rice after half an hour. It will be ready when the rice is fully cooked and you can see a golden crust underneath.
- To unmold, run a spatula around the sides to make sure the crust hasn’t stuck to the bottom of the skillet: gather your courage and invert quickly on a platter. Serve immediately.