15 January 2011
Persian Jeweled Rice
Since we started off the new year with an Iranian stew, I thought it would make sense to continue with a classic Persian rice recipe, shireen polou. Two years ago I posted a photo of Persian rice and several people asked me for the recipe, so it's about time to follow up with another polou recipe.
If you have ever inadvertently burned a pot of rice, then Persian style rice is for you. I'm kidding, but the most delicious part about Persian rice is the delicious golden crust, called tah-dig, that is carefully formed on the bottom of the pan. "Crusty rice," is a technique found all over the world, from Korean bibimbap to northern Indian Biryani to crunchy fried rice. If it were up to me, crunchy rice beats out plain fluffy rice anytime.
The technique for Persian polou is the same whether you are just making plain rice (rice with butter), or a fancier rice stuffed with everything from sour cherries to chicken to pistachios to vegetables. First, you par-boil basmati rice until it is half way done, about 10 minutes. Then you drain the rice and mix with whatever additions you want to add, whether its spices, herbs, meat, or fruits and nuts. Then you melt a lot of butter (or ghee) in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. You add a little bit of rice and stir it in to coat in the butter and pat it down on the bottom of the pot. Then you pile in the rest of the rice in a loose conical shape, and poke a few holes in the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle a bit of water over the top of the rice, wrap the lid of the pot with a towel, and cook on medium-ow heat until a beautiful crust forms on the bottom of the pan.
Now today we're making one of the fancier forms of polou, "shireen polou," or jeweled rice. Traditionally made for weddings, this rice is filled with chicken, pistachios, almonds, barberries or cherries, candied orange peel, and saffron. Though sour cherries are usually used for different dish (albalu polou), I love them and happened to add them on hand instead of barberries. The rice is studded with colors and textures, sweets and savories, all mixed with bits of rice both crunchy and sweet. You'll never want to eat boring old steamed rice again.
You can always play around with different dried fruits and nuts for this dish, and if you don't have candied orange peel a bit of fresh orange zest will do in a pinch. Making polou is a delicate act, if the heat is too low you don't get the crispy crust, and too high and it burns. It may take a bit of practice to get it right, but even the "ugly" versions will be delicious.
6 chicken drumsticks (or 4 chicken breasts)
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup shelled blanched pistachios
1/2 cup pitted sour cherries (or rehydrated barberries* or dried sour cherries)
1/4 cup golden raisins or diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons finely diced candied orange peel
1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cinnamon, and cumin
1 pinch of saffron mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water
6 tablespoons butter or ghee
1. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper. Heat some olive oil in a pot, add the chicken and lightly brown on all sides. Add water to cover chicken, bring to a simmer, and simmer about 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and falling of the bone. Remove chicken to cool and set aside broth.
2. Bring broth to boil, if there isn't much broth add some extra water so that there is at least around 5 cups liquid. The rice should be able to cook freely in the liquid, bouncing around the pot. Add the rice to the boiling broth and let the rice cook 10 minutes, it will be under-done. Drain rice immediately and place in a bowl.
3. Meanwhile pull apart the cooled chicken, discarding skin and bone.
4. Season the rice with salt and add the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, and saffron, stirring well to mix. Fold in the nuts, fruits, and chicken, folding gently to combine.
5. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in the bottom of a deep heavy pot. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the rice (preferably without any big chunks of chicken or fruit or anything), and add it to the pan, mixing with the butter. Pat this buttery rice layer down to cover the bottom of the pan. Pile in the remaining rice in a loose conical shape. Poke a few holes in the cone with the handle of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of water over the rice. Wrap the pot lid in a dish towel, tying it at the top with rubber band. Cover the pan with the lid and let cook undisturbed for 35-45 minutes. Start checking the rice after about 30 minutes, you want the rice at the bottom to be golden brown but not the burn.
6. When the rice is done, remove from the heat and immediately dunk the bottom of the pan in a sink of cold water (this will help the crusty rice release). Wait a moment, then carefully invert the rice onto a platter. If the rice sticks to the pan (as mine always does), just crumble the crusty bits decoratively over the top. Serve immediately, with some plain thick yogurt on the side.
*Barberries and jarred sour cherries are available at your local Middle Eastern or Persian grocery store.