Welcome to the world of Persian rice and a recipe that stole our hearts at first bite. This classic casserole, called tahchin, layers rice with yogurt-marinated chicken and cooks in the oven after a drizzle of butter. When it comes out, the rice cake gets inverted onto a platter, resulting in a top layer that is golden brown, crunchy and an addictive part of every bite. The crispy layer is called the tahdig, or "bottom of the pot," and the second you taste it, you'll never go back to pilaf.
The type of pot or casserole dish you use for this recipe is extremely important. The first time around, we used a ceramic casserole dish, but it took a long time for the rice to form a crispy crust. On our second attempt, we used a cast-iron Dutch oven, and while the crust was perfect, we had to grease the pan well to prevent sticking. (If the rice does stick, you can scrape the crispy bits out and lay them over the fluffy rice. It still tastes just as good). The dish came out perfectly, however, with a nonstick, ovenproof 12-inch pot. The crust was golden and flipped out easily.
To learn more, read "Wild Rice."
Baked Persian Rice (Tahchin)
Recipe adapted from 'Taste of Persia,' by Naomi Duguid
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus cooling, marinating and soaking time
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, plus cooling, marinating and soaking time
For the Filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ medium yellow onion, minced
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons dried orange peel
½ cup plain whole yogurt
For the Rice:
3 cups basmati rice, rinsed
3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
1 stick unsalted butter, melted, divided
For the Topping:
1 cup dried barberries
Parsley leaves, for garnish
1. Up to 24 hours before serving, make the filling: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally until opaque, 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt, and cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat until cooked, 10 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add the dried orange peel and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then drain. Return the peel to the saucepan and cover again with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and mince.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the minced orange peel with the yogurt. Add the cooled chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the rice: Preheat the oven to 375°. Two hours before the chicken is finished marinating, place the rice in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the salt and cover with water. Let the rice soak for 2 hours, then drain.
5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and season with the remaining tablespoon of salt. Add the rice and cook until tender, but still chewy, 5 minutes, then drain.
6. Meanwhile, strain the chicken mixture of its marinade and reserve the marinating liquid in a medium bowl. Whisk in the egg until smooth. Add 3 cups of the cooked basmati rice and stir to coat.
7. Grease a nonstick, ovenproof 12-inch pot with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Lay the marinade-coated rice on the bottom of the pot and press the rice up the sides of the pot by 1½ inches. Distribute the chicken pieces over the rice, leaving a 1-inch border, then top with the remaining cooked rice. Drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top layer of rice.
8. Cover the pot tightly with a lid or foil and bake the rice for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° and bake for 45 minutes more.
9. Fill your sink with 2 inches of cold water and place the pot into the water for 5 minutes; this will help the rice release from the sides of pot. Remove from the sink and use a paring knife to separate the rice from the pot. Place a large plate or platter over the pot and invert the two so the tahchin falls onto the plate. Spoon the dried barberries on and around the tahchin, then garnish with parsley leaves and serve.