Tahchin

Saffron, yogurt and chicken “upside down” rice

Tahchin

Tahchin literally means “arranged at the bottom” and refers to a layer of rice combined with meat to form a thick tahdig. Traditionally the rice is mixed with egg in addition to yogurt. Tahchin can be made with chicken or tender cuts of lamb; the chicken version is more popular and easier to make.

There are also some vegetarian versions with spinach or aubergine/ eggplant. This recipe is reasonably easy and the result is quite impressive.

The thick Greek-style yogurt binds the rice together with the meat and when cooked in a heavy-based non-stick pan or a non-stick rice cooker you can turn it out like a cake onto your serving dish.

Preparation

Wash the rice and soak for 2 hours.

Cooking chelo and polo (traditional method)

Drain the soaked rice. Fill a saucepan three-quarters full with cold water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per 300 g/11 oz of rice. Bring to the boil on a high heat. Add the rice to the boiling water. To begin with, you will see individual grains of rice rising to the surface as the water boils.

Gradually, more grains come up to the surface with each bubble. After about 10 minutes, you will see the pattern of bubbles change to waves of rice rising to the top. Count approximately five waves and then remove from the heat. Drain in a fine-meshed colander or a large sieve. Taste a couple of grains. If the rice is too salty, rinse once with cold water.

The rice is now ready for steaming. At this stage you can add other ingredients if you are making a polo. Return the empty saucepan to the heat and add vegetable oil (or oil and butter; follow the recipe).

Add your chosen tahdig ingredient . Reduce the heat and gently pile the rice on the tahdig, using a slotted spoon and starting from the middle of the pan. Ideally, you will end up with a pyramid of rice that comes short of touching the lid. This will allow the steam to escape from the sides as well as the top, leaving your rice grains separate and fluffy. Drizzle vegetable oil – or oil and butter cut into small pieces – over the top.

Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and put it firmly on the pan to prevent steam from escaping as much as possible. The cloth also absorbs the condensed steam on the lid, preventing it from dropping back into the pan and making the rice soggy.

Reduce the heat to low, but make sure that steam rises all the way to the top of the pan. If you have a gas hob, reduce the heat to minimum and use a heat diffuser. Leave to steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour (follow the recipe). It is advisable not to remove the lid during steaming; the crust will form nicely and the rice will not burn. The lid should be hot to the touch and the tea towel should be moist with the steam.

Trim and wash the chicken thighs, remove the skin and bones, and pat the meat dry on kitchen paper. Peel and roughly chop the onion.

Cooking

Use a heavy-based saucepan, preferably non-stick, large enough to allow the rice and chicken pieces to be steamed together. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the onion until golden. Add the chicken pieces and turmeric and stir well to seal the chicken on all sides. Add the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of liquid saffron and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook the chicken for approximately 30 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through, remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve the cooking juices in the pan.

Pour 500 ml/just under 1 pint of water into the pan with the chicken cooking juices. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to the boil. Drain the rice and add to the pan with 1 tablespoon of oil and half of the butter. Simmer gently until all the water has been absorbed and small holes start to appear in the surface.

Mix the rest of the liquid saffron with the yogurt. Fold the saffron yogurt mixture and the chicken pieces into the rice, making sure that the chicken pieces are coated with the saffron yogurt.

Reduce the heat to a minimum (on a gas flame use the lowest setting and a heat diffuser), add the rest of the butter and the oil. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and place on the pan. Leave to steam for 1 hour.

Remove from the heat and stand the pan in 5 cm/2 inches of cold water for 1–2 minutes to loosen.

Cooking

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, preferably cast-iron, and toss the quartered onion in the oil for a couple of minutes, until lightly golden. Add the lamb shanks and turn to seal on all sides. The meat should not be browned at this stage.

Add the turmeric and stir to coat the shanks evenly. Drain the split peas and add to the pan, then add the dried limes.

Pour the boiling water into the pan and stir well. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer gently for approximately 1½ hours until the shanks are nearly cooked (you should be able to separate the meat from the bone with a fork) and the split peas are al dente. Keep the heat low and keep the lid on the pan to retain as much of the liquid as possible.

Drain and add the potatoes and the tomato purée/tomato paste to the pan and stir to mix. Leave to simmer very gently until the potatoes are cooked, approximately 30 minutes. Season to taste.

Add the red kidney beans and simmer for a further 10–15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and simmer for another 5 minutes. Just before serving, add the liquid saffron and mix well.

Serve with warm flat bread such as pitta or lavash (very thin Persian bread) with a side dish of yogurt and fresh herbs.

Source: New Persian Cooking: A Fresh Approach to the Classic Cuisine of Iran by Jila Dana-Haeri

Serves 4–6
Preparation: 25 minutes,
plus soaking
Cooking: approximately 2 hours

Ingredients

600 g/1 lb 5 oz basmati rice
4 tablespoons salt
8 chicken pieces (preferably thighs)
1 large onion
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons liquid saffron
salt and black pepper
500 ml/just under 1 pint water
50 g/2 oz butter
400 g/14 oz Greek-style full-fat/
whole milk yogurt
1 egg (optional)