While a little unorthodox, tahdig and caviar is an extremely logical match made in heaven. The crunchy starchy tahdig is the perfect vessel for the briny caviar. Salty, slightly smoky, filled with umami, and aromas of saffron that will transport you to the Caspian Sea.
Tahdig which translates literally to “bottom of the pot”, is one of the great staples in Persian cooking. You only get one shot in making it per pot of rice, so after that hour long wait when you flip the pot and see perfectly golden crunchy tahdig, for a few moments all is good in the world. Tahdig can be made using a variety of ingredients (such as bread, or potatoes), but the classic is a crispy rice tahdig.
Making tahdig is a twostep process. The first step is preparing a pot of rice the Persian method, also known as “Chelow”. There will be step by step instructions for making chelow, but it involves washing, soaking, and parboiling the rice. While it may seem like added steps in making something as simple as rice, it’s these extra steps that gives Persian rice that extraordinary aroma, length, texture, and flavor. The second step is preparing for the tahdig with oil, saffron, and layers of the rice that was parboiled.
Rice (preferably smoked basmati)
Fine Mesh Strainer
Large 6-8 qt Pot
Non Stick Pot 3-6 qts
Bowl for mixing
Preparing Chelow (Persian Rice):
To make Persian rice a quality long grain rice is recommended. Basmati is the most common variety you will see recommended.
Start by washing rice in a large bowl with extra room in it. The average measurement of uncooked rice is ½ cup per person, however you can scale that for however many people or how big of a pot of rice/tahdig you would like to make.
Run tepid water over rice until water starts to run clear (5-6 times). Besides washing off any dirty, sand, or unwanted particles from the rice we are also washing off excess starch from the rice which helps us create the fluffy plate of rice we are looking for.
After washing/rinsing the rice a small step goes far is soaking the rice in salt water. Fill the bowl with water allowing 1-2 inches of water above the rice. For every 4 cups of water I like to add 1 tablespoon of salt. Allow to soak for at least 1 hour.
After Rice has been soaked, strain using a fine mesh colander and set aside for cooking.
Fill a large pot (6qts or larger) with water and bring to a boil. Salt the water like making pasta or blanching vegetables (salty like the ocean). Adding salt in the soak and during the parboil not only helps flavor our rice but also directly results in tender rice that has length to it. Cooking any starch in salted water slows down the “swelling” in the starch granules, which prevents sticky globs of rice like sushi rice or risotto.
Boil rice over high heat, stirring once or twice gently to make sure there is no sticking. We are only parboiling the rice and taking it off once the rice is enlarged and still “al dente”. After 5-6 minutes test the rice, and if it feels softer but still has some tooth to it strain the pot of rice.
After straining rice give it a light rinse with tepid water to wash off any excess salt or starch on the rice.
Preparing Tahdig (Crispy Persian Rice):
Tahdig can be scaled and made into any size pot desired. For the Tahdig and Caviar dish I used a small 3 qt sauce pot for a more personal final product, however traditionally tahdig is made in larger pots as the pot of rice is meant to feed an entire family.
You will need to create a liquid saffron mixture for the tahdig. If you have saffron threads you will need pulverize a few threads using a sugar cube, and a mortar and pestle. You can use a spice grinder as well, however given the expensive and delicate nature of saffron using a mortar allows for less waste. Dissolve a small pinch of the saffron with hot water to create a red/orange liquid.
In a separate bowl mix some of the parboiled rice with the saffron mixture creating a bright orange rice. This rice is what will be our tahdig, so I like to mix the saffron and rice separately to ensure there is a uniform color and appearance to our tahdig.
Pour an even amount of a neutral flavored oil on the bottom of your non-stick pot. I used almond oil, but you can use canola or any other oil of your preference. If using butter, clarifying the butter first helps prevent any burning or dark spots on your tahdig. You want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot completely.
Layer the bottom of the pot with the saffron rice created, directly onto the oil. Gently tapper down the rice to make sure its evenly covered on the bottom.
Next, begin to layer the white parboiled rice on top in the shape of a pyramid. Do not press down and keep the rice fluffy. Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke 5-8 holes in your rice pyramid to allow steam to escape.
Cover pot with lid and bring turn on heat to a medium for 5-10 minutes. The goal is to start cooking the tahdig without burning the rice. Once you hear the oil crackling a little and some steam forming in the rice you are ready for the next step.
Bring the heat to low and wrap your lid with a towel. This step is important as it acts as a control for the amount of steam and moisture going back into the rice. Steam your rice on low for 60-90 minutes. The longer you go the thicker and crunchier your tahdig will be. You can use a flame “diffuser” if you are worried your burners do not have even distribution of heat.
When your tahdig is ready and rice is cooked, place a large plate over the pot and in one swift motion flip the pot onto the plate revealing your tahdig. Pot will be very hot, use care and caution when flipping.
The potato chip is a perfect pairing with some fine caviar. Known for his astute culinary talents, Chef Jenner Tomaska, shows us how to bake some homemade potato chips from start to finish that complements perfectly with caviar.