My family and friends have seen it many times: me, standing in my kitchen with a platter nestled on top of a pot, muttering some sort of a prayer, about to do the famous flip. My beautiful rice simply cannot come out burnt.
I carefully but swiftly flip the pot onto the platter, and voila! Before everyone appears a mound of fluffy rice encased in a beautiful golden saffron crust. I have made tahdig hundreds of times, but that’s the beauty of it—no matter how many times you make it, there remains a sense of mystery and anticipation.
What Is Tahdig?
Tahdig is a traditional Persian rice dish that literally means “bottom of the pot.” It gets its name from the crispy, buttery, saffron-hued rice that forms at the bottom of the rice pot. Believe me, it is the best part.
Though tahdig is typically made with rice, it isn’t uncommon to create the crust by lining the pot with lavash (or other unleavened flatbread) or slices of potatoes. I take a simpler approach, creating the crisp layer with the rice itself.
How to Get a Golden Crust
There are a few ways to achieve the golden color. I am a minimalist with tahdig, using oil and saffron mixed in with parboiled rice to line the bottom of the pot. Some cooks add yogurt or raw egg (or both) to the parboiled rice mixture, but I find that creates a moister crust—though you achieve a brighter yellow. In my version, saffron is front and center.
With its musky aroma, saffron is often referred to as “red gold” since it is one of the world’s most expensive spices. But don’t be alarmed, you won’t need much. When it comes to saffron, a little bit goes a long way; you only need about 2 scant teaspoons for your dish.
What You’ll Need
Here are a few items you will need to make perfect tahdig:
- Non-stick pot: A nonstick pot that is 8 or 9 inches in diameter with a tight-fitting lid works best. You’ll use this for the final steps: steaming the rice and forming the crust. You’ll also need a large, clean tea towel.
- Large pot: You need a large pot to parboil rice, something similar to what you use for boiling pasta. I like to use a 4-quart pot.
- Mortar and pestle: I am not one to encourage anyone to collect one-use kitchen tools, but I am a big fan of a mortar and pestle. I use it to grind saffron in this recipe, but it’s also wonderful for grinding other whole spices in your pantry. You can find a small, decent one for under $20. Alternatively, make a makeshift mortar and pestle using a teacup and spoon. Add the saffron to the teacup and apply pressure to each strand, crushing it against the inside of the cup.
What Rice Makes the Best Tahdig?
White basmati is the rice choice for a tahdig because it retains its shape well, even after it is plunged into hot water. There are several brands from India and Pakistan that you can choose from, such as Tilda, Zebra, Royal, and Daawat. I like to use Tilda brand basmati rice, which doesn’t require a long soak and boils in just 5 to 6 minutes.
If you’re feeling intimidated about making tahdig, please don't be! I am here to break it down for you with lots of tips and tricks. To start, let’s think of preparing tahdig as a 3-step process.
- Wash the rice and soak it. This helps get rid of starch so the rice doesn’t get sticky while shortening the cook time.
- Parboil the rice in salted water (as you would prepare pasta) until it is al dente—firm in the middle and soft on the outside.
- Steam and crisp the rice. Add oil and saffron water to the bottom of the pot followed by the parboiled rice. The rice will steam as the bottom layer becomes crisp.
How to Flip Tahdig
Don’t be afraid to flip it. I have been making tahdig for years and I still get a bit nervous, and that’s okay!
I run a spatula or butterknife along the edge of the pan to ensure no rice is sticking to the sides. Then, I make sure my platter is larger than the diameter of the pot so it’s easy to flip. I like to use a tea towel to grip the platter and the handles of the pot. If some of the rice sticks to the pot, use a spatula to scrape it out and patch up your tahdig. It will still be delicious.
If you find that your rice is really sticking to the pot, another fix is to fill your sink with ice water so that it comes about 2 inches up the sides of your pot. Submerge the bottom of the pot in the sink for a few minutes. Wipe the pot dry and flip.
- If you can’t tell if it’s done: I recommend letting the rice steam for the amount of time indicated in the recipe, but if you are unsure after that time has elapsed, you can use a spatula to lift the rice slightly from the side of the pan and see if the grains are a deep saffron color and crunchy.
- If it’s not crispy enough: All pots, brands of rice, and stovetops are different, so it may be a case of trial and error the first few times you make it. You may have to allow the rice to cook another 5 to 10 minutes or turn the burner up slightly from low to medium-low.
- If it’s burnt: Learn from your mistakes for next time! Adjust the heat and cook time as needed, perhaps shaving off 5 minutes or so.
How to Serve
I love to serve tahdig with vegetarian or meat stew, roast meat, or Persian kebabs. Given my multi-dimensional heritage, I often prepare tahdig for my family alongside a simple Pakistani-style lentil dish or a chicken curry.
My favorite comfort food is tahdig with dollops of creamy mast o khiar—a Persian-style cucumber and yogurt side dish.
Rice Dishes for All Occasions
Tahdig (Persian Crispy Rice)
2 cups basmati rice
2 scant, loose teaspoons Persian saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed
2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
Wash and soak the rice:
In a medium bowl, submerge 2 cups of basmati rice in cold water. Using your fingers, agitate the rice. The water will be cloudy; discard it, leaving the wet grains behind. Repeat this process until the water appears to run clear.
Fill the bowl with water again, coming 2 inches above the grains, and leave the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
The minimum soak time will depend on what brand of rice you use: soak Tilda for at least 30 minutes, Daawat and Royal for 1 hour, and Zebra for 1 to 2 hours.
Prepare the saffron:
Grind the saffron into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Combine the saffron powder and boiling water in a small bowl and set aside.
Parboil the rice:
In a large pot, add about 1 tablespoon salt and fill about 2/3 with water, as if you were cooking pasta. There should be enough water in the pot for the rice to cook freely and the water should taste lightly salty. Bring to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, drain the soaked rice and discard the soaking water. Add the drained rice to the pot. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the rice is al dente (cooked on the outside and slightly crunchy in the middle).
The exact timing will vary from brand to brand. Keep a vigilant eye on your rice and keep checking it every couple of minutes.
Drain the rice well in a mesh colander and run cool water over it so it stops cooking.
Layer the ingredients:
In an 8 or 9-inch nonstick pot with a lid, add the oil and the saffron water and a few serving spoons of rice at a time to coat with the oil and saffron water. Keep combining rice with the oil and saffron water, and, using a spatula, form an even layer of saffron-infused rice in the bottom and partially up the sides of the pot approximately 3/4-inch thickness. Depending on the size of your pan, this will be 3/4 cup to 1 1/2 cups of rice. This is what will magically transform into the golden, crispy crust.
Add the rest of the parboiled rice on top of the saffron-infused rice in an even layer without stirring it. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, create 4 to 6 indentions in the rice, making sure you do not disturb the bottom layer. Dot the holes with butter.
Steam the rice:
Stretch a clean, dry tea towel over the top and add the lid. This will help prevent steam from escaping. Tie the corners of the tea cloth together on top of the pot’s lid.
Turn the burner to medium-high heat and let the rice sizzle for 5 minutes (make sure it doesn’t burn; do not turn the heat to high). After 5 minutes, decrease the heat to the lowest setting and allow the rice to cook until it is cooked through, about 20 more minutes. This will vary according to the pan you are using and the intensity of heat of your burner.
If you’re not sure if the rice is done, taste a grain from the top to see if it is cooked. Then carefully use a spatula to slightly lift the rice from the side of the pan and peek at the bottom. The grains at the bottom should be a deep golden color and crisp.
Flip and serve:
When ready, remove the pot from the burner and allow it to rest for 10 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and place a large platter over the top of the pot. Very carefully flip the rice onto the plate. Serve.
Tahdig is all about the crunch, so it is best eaten hot and steaming. You can store it for 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container, but you will lose the crunch.
Reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan. Sprinkle with a bit of water, cover with a lid, and reheat on low heat until warmed through, 8 to 10 minutes.
Love the recipe? Leave us stars below!
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 8g||11%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|