Persian Tahdig Rice with Assyrian Style Chicken Curry
Creating with Parisa Parnian of Savage Taste
I met Parisa Parnian through a friend who was in town visiting, after having recently moved to L.A. She said, “you have to meet this girl Parisa I know, you two have so much in common. She does these dinner pop ups out of her home in Silverlake and you’d love her.” Azure, my friend, wasn’t lying. I absolutely adore Parisa and all her creative energy… it’s commanded when she walks into a room.
She’s a powerful presence, literally and figuratively. I first got the chance to meet her for coffee, last winter. I walked into the coffee shop and immediately spotted her; dark and long curly hair, thick, black rimmed funky eyeglasses, a kerchief tied around her neck and bright red lipstick. She stood up to greet me and towered over me with her height. I had previously read about all the things she was doing in LA and caught an article Eater wrote about her, yes Eater. I was fanning out a little… but moreso, excited and eager to meet someone I could totally connect with. We did have a lot in common. We are both first generation Middle Eastern women, navigating what it means to be creative, or queer or a woman in a world where our modern, Americanized version can co-exist with our rooted and cultural background that’s been ingrained in us since birth.
How can we bring that energy to the table? How can our background give something we can use as a tool to bring conversation, connection and more importantly, heart to those around us ? I’m sure you know the answer to this… of course. FOOD. Obvious to both of us, we knew instanlty we wanted to collaborate on something together but what would it be? A co-hosted dinner party? A video shoot? Why not both? So… that’s what we did!
*SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO GET STRAIGHT TO THE VIDEO
This is something new and exciting for me as my usual video shoots have been straight to the point, without much commentary and shot in a fast paced style. In an effort to change things up, I decided I wanted to incorporate more of myself in front of the lense, talking about how to be successful while executing a recipe. If I don’t stop to talk about the why or how, you don’t get to fully understand cooking the way it’s meant to be done… through using ALL of your senses. Touching, tasting, smelling, listening and seeing what’s in front of you. The French refer to this as cooking by feel; or cooking ‘au pif,’ as David Lebovitz talks about, in detail in his book, My Paris Kitchen.
Parisa and I decided to tackle a very “simple seeming” recipe, Persian Tahdig Rice with a very “difficult seeming” Assyrian Style Chicken Curry. The result? A recipe video that breaks it all down for you so you can be successful every single time. The success in Tahdig comes from cooking ‘au pif.’ And the curry? Well, it seems difficult but it’s actually super easy and foolproof!
Now, Tahdig refers specifically to the crust portion of the rice dish. It’s the crispy, crunchy, deep golden bottom of the pot, that caramelizes directly over a flame over a long period of time. It’s not uncommon in other cultures as well… Koreans have a version called ‘Nurungji,’ Spaniards fight over the coveted bottom of the Paella pan known as ‘socarrat’ and in the Caribbean it’s known as Cucayo. Many other cultures covet the bottom of the pan and here it’s celebrated!
As for the curry? I’m not specifically calling this an original Assyrian dish. It’s heavily influenced by Indian cuisine but what makes this dish “Assyrian” to me is that my family makes it at least once a month. We grew up eating it and the taste is different from a traditional Indian curry. We use ‘baharat’ to season the stew and unlike traditional curry stew, the curry isn’t the dominant flavor. Also? I thought it would make the perfect compliment to the Tahdig Rice and I wasn’t wrong.
These two recipes are recipes you will keep with you forever! And if you master Tahdig and the basic stew foundations you will be the envy of all your foodie friends, trust.
You will notice the format of this blog post is different from my past posts. I won’t be breaking down the recipe step by step here. I will include a few notes but the purpose of the long format video is to SHOW you how to do it so that you have all the secrets, tips and tricks you will need to know by watching then doing. Imagine it as you would your Italian grandmother showing you the secret to her amazing Sunday Sauce or your mom teaching you the secrets to a perfect pie crust. Learning by watching is the perfect method for success in this recipe.
What to know about making Persian Tahdig Rice before getting started:
don’t read the recipe and follow it verbatim - if it looks and feels off, adjust accordingly
as always, use the best quality ingredients you can find: i.e., heirloom quality rice, good saffron, your favorite salt, etc.
when par-boiling the rice, trust the process. It’s not too much salt, undercooked rice is what you are looking for, and yes, keep your eye on the boil
the longer you cook the rice on low, the more caramelized your crust will become
follow your instincts - if the heat seems too high, lower it. If your tahdig batter is too wet, add more rice, etc.
What to know about making Assyrian Chicken Curry before getting started:
this is the “Assyrian Version” meaning less curry flavor, more Middle Eastern flavor
Using bone-in, skin on allows more flavor when cooking chicken. Trust me, dark meat is where it’s at. Stop boring yourself to death with chicken breast. It’s drier, less flavorful and more tough. When you are serving to guests or for a party, you want maximum flavor and texture. So save the white, lean stuff for yourself.
adding wine to a recipe that usually doesn’t call for it is just my twist on making something that is delicious, taste even better. You don’t have to add it but I think it creates a developed flavor profile and allows for more deep and layered elements to this super satisfying stew. Bonus, you can serve the leftover wine to your guests! Just don’t forget to pick up more than one bottle… or four.
don’t skip scraping the bottom of the pot!
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR RECIPE VIDEO HOW-TO
Recipe for Tahdig Rice and Assyrian Style Chicken Curry
Persian Tahdig Rice
Serves 8 Prep Time: 25 min Cook Time: 3 hours
Special Equipment - 10” Round Non-Stick Pot with lid, cheesecloth or non-dyed flour sack towel
2 ½ C White Basmati Rice – rinsed in cold water until water runs clear
3 quarts water for boiling rice
2 Heaping tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (alternatively 1 heaping tsp Morton’s Kosher salt)
1 Yukon Gold Potato – sliced ¼” thin rounds, skin on
¼ tsp Saffron
2 Tbs hot water – roughly
2 Tbs full fat plain Greek Yogurt
1 tbs Ghee or unsalted butter
Additional ¼ cup clean, filtered water
Step 1: Par-boil the Rice - Add strained rice to the non-stick pot and fill pot with about 3 quarts of cold water. Add kosher salt and set on cooktop on high heat. Let the rice come to a rolling boil, about 12 minutes. Turn heat off and taste rice for an “al-dente” chew. Remove and strain rice. Set aside.
Step 2: Make the Tahdig Batter - Using a mortar and pestle or the back of a wooden spoon, grind saffron until it is powdered. Place saffron in a small bowl and add the 2 tbs of hot water to the bowl. Swirl the saffron around to allow it to infuse the water with color and aroma. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add about 2 cups of the cooked rice and 1 tbs of yogurt. Incorporate the yogurt into the rice gently but thoroughly. Add another cup of cooked rice and another tablespoon of yogurt and again, mix and incorporate the yogurt into the rice. The texture you are looking for is sticky and binded, not wet.
(It is important to add the rice and yogurt in increments. The rice should clump up without spreading out too thin. If your rice is too wet, add a little more rice and alternatively, if it is too dry add more yogurt one teaspoon at a time until you have a sticky, and clumpy texture.)
Once the yogurt and rice are incorporated, add the saffron water ½ tsp at a time. Stop after every teaspoon to incorporate the saffron into the rice. You want all the rice colored golden without making the “batter” too wet. Add an additional ½ tsp at a time until all the rice is golden and the batter remains sticky. (reserve the remaining saffron water)
Step 3: Cook the Tahdig – Once the batter is mixed, set your non-stick pan back on the burner on high heat. Add ghee or butter and let it melt down. When pot is hot but not smoking, carefully place potato rounds on bottom of pan. Start in the center and work your way out until the bottom of the pan is covered in potato rounds. Gently add the saffron rice mixture on top of the potatoes and using the back of a wooden spoon, gently press the rice down into the potatoes, creating a crust on the bottom of the pot. Next, add the remaining white rice to the pot and gently break up any clumps being careful not to break up the crust on the bottom of the pot. Once all the white rice is in the pot, gently push white rice in towards the center of the pot, creating a mound of rice. Sprinkle ¼ cup of water onto the rice (and the remaining saffron water if you’d like).
Lay down a cheesecloth or flour sack towel on your counter. Place the pot lid on top of the towel and gather up the corners of the towel around the lid, wrapping the cloth around the top of the lid tightly. Fold or wrap the excess cloth around the top and secure with a rubber band or clip if you’d like. Place lid on top of the pot and immediately reduce heat to LOW. Cook on low for 2-3 hours. The longer it cooks the more golden and crunchy the Tahdig crust becomes.
Serving the Tahdig Rice – Once the rice is cooked through, remove the lid and place a large, flat platter onto the top of the pot. Tap the bottom of the pot onto a hard surface to loosen the bottom crust off the pot. In one quick motion, carefully flip the pot and platter so the platter is on the bottom and the pot is upside down. You should hear a thump, indicating the crust released from the bottom of the pot. Carefully remove the pot, revealing your beautiful Tahdig Rice dish! Crack the crust all over with a metal spatula and serve your guests!
Assyrian Style Chicken Curry
Serves 8 Prep Time – 15 min Active Cook Time – 1 Hour
8 pieces chicken legs and thighs - bone-in, skin on
3 Yukon Gold Potatoes – peeled, quartered and quartered again for bite size chunks
2 Cups frozen peas
1 Large onion, large diced – about 2 cups chopped
3 cloves garlic – smashed
3 cups chicken stock
2 ½ cups water
*optional: ¼ cup red wine (Spanish Grenache preferred)
2 tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs Baharat/7 spice mix
3 Tbs mild or medium curry
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cardamom
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Prep the chicken – Season chicken generously to taste with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Using the premeasured spices, lightly sprinkle chicken with all the dry spices and let the chicken rest in the fridge while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
Step 2: Make the stew – In a large, heavy bottomed dutch oven or pot heat up 2 tbs olive oil on medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the chicken, skin side down, in batches being careful not to overcrowd the pot. Sear the chicken until it is lightly caramelized and golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken onto a shallow bowl and set aside. Add another tbs of oil if your pot is dry. Reduce heat to medium and add onions. Sauté about 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, another 1-2 minutes. Add potatoes and raise heat to medium high. Sauté until potatoes are caramelizing in spots, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add chicken back into the pot and add all the dry spices. Reduce heat back to medium. Using a wooden spoon, fold spices into the chicken and potatoes and cook about a minute. Add tomato paste and mix it into the pot well, cooking it off another 30 seconds. Add wine if using and mix well. Add chicken stock. Add water until everything in the pot is just barely covered and some ingredients are just barely poking out of the stew. Using the wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot where all the caramelization has happened to release all the flavor.
Raise heat back to medium-high and bring stew to a gentle boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook about 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through and almost falling off the bone. Turn heat off, add frozen peas and gently stir through about a minute. Taste and season with sea salt to taste if needed. Serve with rice, pita or naan. Enjoy!