You know it well, that crunchy, salty, lip smacking delicious layer that develops at the bottom of a pot of perfectly cooked rice. That was my favorite food growing up. If you are what you eat, I was definitely crispy rice. While rice was the staple of my youth and the foundation to every meal, the crispy bits were the indulgence- the treat worth finishing dinner for. Sure dessert was good, but crispy rice was what we all really wanted- it was worth fighting for. (Pro tip: When making a stew, reserve some of the liquid. Pour it into the pot with the crispy rice and devour. This is the easiest, most efficient way to clean a pot of rice; credit: mom).
When I moved to the States, I tried Korean bibimbap for the first time and was fascinated: these people knew what's up and I liked it, a lot. Not only did they love their crispy rice, they took it seriously enough to design a pot to maximize the crisp factor. I was immediately hooked. But it wasn't until last weekend that a childhood memory transformed into a newfound addiction- let me introduce you to Persian Rice.
This is rice like you've never tasted rice before. This is what crispy rice dreams are made of. This is the Beyoncé of crispy rice- deserving of full blown celebrity goddess status. If I had a miniature crown (👑) I would put it on this rice, because you know what? -when was the last time rice, the humblest of all ingredients, the workhorse behind most cultures' cuisines, looked this beautiful?
Yeah, rice woke up like this.
The slaying recipe that lays in front of you is the result of several recipes collapsing together into one of a kind treat. (Sarah Britton's Jeweled Rice from Naturally Nourished highly influenced the flavor combinations here). This is my take on the traditional sabzi polo, an herbed rice served during Nowruz, (aka. The Persian New Year). Nowruz is festive and rejuvenating, a multi-day celebration that starts with the cleansing of the soul and the home, and ends in a feast of rice, fish, vegetables, and lots of herbs. When I first read about Nowruz, I couldn't understand it, then I made this dish. While Nowruz happened earlier this week, March 21st to be exact, it doesn't yet feel like spring in New York City, but this recipe will take us all there.
The methods (note, this recipe requires multiple steps) are not particularly intuitive to a Latin. They aren't complicated, just different. First, we'll rinse the rice. Then, we will soak it for several hours. We will then par-cook the rice as you would pasta. Finally, we will steam it with herbs, saffron, and dried fruits. During this last step, the rice cooks in very little liquid. A towel wrapped around the lid will absorb all the moisture, ensuring loose, glossy grains and a thick crispy edge develop.
There are a great many variations of this recipe- I like how layered and complex the combination of fresh and cooked herbs and fruits make each bite a pop of flavor. Rich, layered, textured. Saffron, a very much welcomed splurge, adds a distinct perfume that infuses each bite with floral undertones. Banging!
Saffron and Herbs Persian Rice
1 large pot
1 large skillet, with a lid
- 1 ½ cups brown basmati rice
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup warm water, plus more for rinsing and soaking
- 1 big pinch saffron threads
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 cups chopped parsley
- 1 cup chopped chives
- 1 tbsp. coconut oil
- ½ cup dried currants
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- Place the rice in a large bowl with 3-4 cups of water. With clean hands swirl the rice inside the bowl, drain and repeat two more times.
- Add enough water to fully cover the rice by three inches. Soak for three to four hours. Since we are cooking with brown basmati rice, this step is critical to this cooking technique! Don’t cut corners. Drain the soaked rice.
- Bring a large pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Add the soaked rice and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the rice grains start to float to the surface. The rice should be tender, but firm at the center. Drain and set aside.
- Place one cup of warm water in a bowl with the saffron threads. Set aside until ready to use.
- Peel and mince the garlic and set aside. Then, chop the parsley and chives. Mix the herbs together in a bowl and set aside.
- Place a large skillet, preferably a heavy cast iron pan over low heat. Add the coconut oil and heat through for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
- To cook the rice, we will layer the saffron water, currants, and herbs into the rice.
- Add a third of the soaked rice into the skillet. Toss into the oil then add ½ of the saffron water, ½ of the dried currants, and 1/3 of the herbs. Repeat once, then add remaining rice. Using a spoon, even out the rice to create a mound. At this point you should have poured all the saffron water into the pan and have about a handful of herbs left, we will use these for plating.
- Using the back of a spoon, poke several holes in the mound of rice. Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel and cover the pot. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat.
- Reduce heat to low and cook for another 25-30 minutes until rice is fluffy and aromatic.
- Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
- Transfer rice into serving plate, mixing in the crispy rice into the cooked rice. Sprinkle with remaining herbs and fresh pomegranate seeds.
- Serve immediately.
Cook time: 4 hours inactive, 60 minutes active