Tahdig is loosely translated as “bottom of the pot.” It’s scorched rice, and it’s a treat when done right. When done wrong, an entire Costco pack of Febreze won’t be enough to remove the scent from your home.
My greatest childhood memories are of my dad yelling my name from the kitchen. He has this deep, thick Middle-Eastern voice that carries, it always sounded like I was in trouble. Any time he called, my friends always gave me that “Damn, what’d you do?” look. But when he was cooking, I’d run to the kitchen and be greeted with the first taste of golden tahdig.
There’s something so indulgent about it. Tahdig has this crispy texture and packs a full bite. There is nothing like it, and so despite all I have to go through to make it (outlined below), I do this today for my girls, who are 9 and 5.
It is likely that no one but me is going to do this. It’s too time intensive for today’s on-demand, Blue Apron, Door Dash, Uber Eats world. But my family calls it “your famous rice.” They don’t sell “your famous rice” in prepackaged Styrofoam to-go containers. This only comes from a few hours in the kitchen, so read on if you are brave enough to try it. As mentioned before, all the candles in the world won’t save you if you mess it up.
Biryani rice - look for this to be beige in color so you know it’s aged well
Saffron (the most expensive spice in the world because it’s handpicked)
Honestly, I can’t tell you how long it takes. I’ve never timed it. It’s an internal clock thing after years of burning it or undercooking it. I can’t tell you quantities as I’ve never measured it. It’s all a pinches, dollops and handfuls depending upon the amount of people you’re serving.
- 4-6 hours before you cook the rice (or at least 20 minutes prior), rinse the rice and pour rice into a bowl and fill with cold water and cover. This step isn’t critical in a time crunch, but adds body to each grain. The general rule is 1 cup rice serves 3-4 people. I never cook just 1 cup. I’ve also never measured it. I usually pour about 1/3 of a 5 lb bag.
- Find a large pot and fill about halfway with cold water.
- Bring water to boil.
- Pour salt into the pot – iodized salt, non-iodized salt, sea salt, whatever, just put the salt in. Put too much. Seriously, it should be like ocean water. Don’t worry, you’re going to wash it and it won’t be too salty. It’s for flavor.
- If you’ve pre-soaked the rice, strain it and add to the pot.
- Stir immediately to prevent it from clumping.
- Once the water begins to boil again and the rice dances around, stir again and let it boil for about 5-7 minutes.
- Turn the burner off and pour into a colander and rinse with cold water to bring the temp down so the rice stops cooking.
- Pro tip: make sure the strainer is large enough, but with small holes so you don’t lose precious rice.
- Let it sit for at least 20 minutes. Again, in a time crunch, you can keep moving, but then don’t blame me.
- Heat up your pot.
- Pour olive oil into the pot – enough to cover the bottom.
- Sprinkle enough salt into the pot.
- Take a few handfuls of the rice and spread evenly to cover the bottom of the pot.
- Pro tip: I take a potato smasher and condense the rice so it’s tight and absorbs the oil.
- Heat should remain on high for about 5 minutes.
- Pour the rest of the drained rice on top and shape into a cone.
- Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke about 5 holes into the cone. This will allow the moisture to rise easily.
- Place a thin hand towel on top of the pot and cover with the lid. The towel is to absorb the moisture otherwise the water falls back into the pot and you won’t have tahdig. The lid should fit into the pot as normal with the hand towel in place.
- Turn the heat on low and let it cook for about 90 min.
- Pro tip: ovens have burners with different BTU outputs. For this part, find the one with the low or medium BTU output. I have a natural gas range and use a cast iron simmer ring for even cooking. Electric ranges are just fine.
- How do you know when it’s ready? My Dad would always run his thumb across his tongue and swipe the bottom of the pot. If it sizzled, it meant it was ready. I always thought that was the coolest thing until I started cooking rice myself and realized it would sizzle even when it wasn’t ready. Again, it’s an internal clock thing.
- Once complete, scoop the rice out. As you near the bottom, be careful not to scrape the bottom, just the loose rice, which should be fluffy and separate easily.
- Once you’ve scooped out the rice, put a paper towel on a plate and turn upside down on top of the pot opening. While holding the plate to the pot, flip the pot over and the tahdig will drop onto the paper towel on the plate. The paper towel absorbs any extra oil and you should see a nice golden color evenly throughout. It should have a crunchy texture and even consistency with a good amount of body. It should be meaty and not loose or falling apart. You shouldn’t have leftovers. If you do, keep in mind tahdig isn’t really good the next day, so you shouldn’t have leftovers.
- Oh wow option: Saffron – take a few pinches of saffron and place in a bowl. If you have a mortar, grind away. Add two spoons of hot water and the saffron will dissolve. In the small bowl, scoop some of your cooked rice into this bowl and mix. You should have yellow rice with no excess water. After you serve the white rice on a plate, add the yellow rice on top. Boom! Oh wow moment. If you don’t get the oh wow moment, kick those people out of your house immediately. They’re not your friends and do not deserve your famous rice.
Serve with a stew, butter chicken, grilled salmon, or any dish that calls for rice. Good luck.