Persian Rice with Potato Tahdig is an Iranian dish with perfectly steamed saffron rice and crispy fried potatoes. This is my ultimate comfort food!
If there is one single recipe that sums up my childhood, it’s this one.
This Persian rice dish has been a staple in my life for so many years now, that I can’t even remember the exact first time I ate it. All I know is that I was in grade school, because that’s when my family (who had immigrated to Canada from Trinidad), met another family (who had immigrated to Canada from Iran).
This family had kids who were similar in age to me, and soon we were going over to each others homes for playdates and dinner. The adults would chat in the living room, while we played hide-and-seek and watched episodes of The Simpsons (which was so exciting to me, because my mom never let me watch that show at home). For dinner, we often had the same meal: white rice with crispy potatoes, and Swiss Chalet chicken.
I was a very picky eater as a kid, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with most vegetables. My parents would dread taking me to other people’s house for dinner, because I’d refuse to eat most of the time. I was honestly so bad, that one other family that we would visit would just have a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli waiting for me when we came over.
So you can imagine how happy I was to be presented with plain rotisserie chicken, and a mountain of white rice with crispy potatoes. It was heaven! I had no idea how much work went into that dish – I just knew that it tasted really really good. I didn’t even know what it was called! I’d affectionally call it “Iranian Rice.” It’s only recently that I learned that most people call it Persian Rice with Potato Tahdig.
As the years went by, our Iranian friends (and another Iranian family that we became close to), would make this rice dish for us again and again. They would walk through the door with a huge bowl of rice, even when it was our turn to host them for dinner.
Even last year, when I turned 30-something, the dad of that family brought over Persian Rice with Potato Tahdig for my birthday. I was wrapping up a really shitty year, and it made me feel so special to have someone go through all of that trouble just to make me something that I love to eat.
Although I’ve been eating Persian Rice with Potato Tahdig for more than 25 years now, it’s only in the last year or so that my mom and I have actually learned how to make it! We had asked our Iranian friends to teach us before, but they always preferred to make it for us so it would turn out right. Turns out there’s a lot you can do to mess this dish up!
Luckily for me, both families have shared their recipes, techniques and tips with me and my mom, and we’ve finally learned how to make this properly.
Now, both families have their own methods for making this dish. One of them uses barberries, although the mom in that family cooks hers down with chicken stock before adding it to the rice. She also uses a special metal thing that goes between the burner on the stove and the pot, to help prevent the potatoes from burning. The other family takes a slightly different approach. The version that I’m publishing here is an amalgamation of the two recipes – it’s what my mom does when she makes it at home.
I’d also like to point out that you can make the rice without the potato tahdig at the bottom. Some versions of Persian rice have a yogurt tahdig which helps prevent the rice from sticking to the pan, but it still gets crispy. There’s also a version called flatbread tahdig, which has a unleavened flatbread on the bottom instead of potatoes. I’ve been told that this is also very tasty.
For this recipe you need to use Basmati rice. This aromatic long-grain rice is delicious all on its own, but in really shines in this preparation. Good quality Basmati rice should not have any broken grains, and should be fragrant even before it is cooked.
It’s important only parboil the rice before adding it to the pan with the potatoes, otherwise the rice will overcook and become mushy.
We’ve found that Yukon Gold potatoes work really well in this recipe, but I have seen people use Russet potatoes too. Basically anything that makes a good french fry will work. I like the slightly creamy texture of Yukon Gold’s the best though.
If your heat is too high, the potatoes will burn before the rice cooks through. If it’s not high enough, the potatoes won’t get crispy. It might take you a few tries to figure out what temperature setting works best on your stove.
Adding the Saffron
This recipe uses a spice called saffron. If you’re not familiar with saffron, you can learn more about it here.
You will need to crush or grind the saffron before adding it to boiling water. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can just crush the threads between your fingers. The powder won’t be as fine, but it works! If you are not using the barberries, you can pour the remaining 2 tbsp of saffron water over the rice as you layer it on top of the potatoes. I only used 1 tbsp in the rice, as the other went into the barberry mixture.
Covering the Lid
The last really important step that I want to point out is covering the pan with a towel or paper towel. It might seem a bit weird to cook something with a towel on it, but if you skip this step the dish will not turn out right. The towel absorbs excess moisture as the rice steams, which helps to keep the potatoes crispy. If you cook it without the towel, which we have tried, as the dish cools the condensation collects and the potatoes will become soggy, which is a tragedy!
If you try making this recipe, let me know in the comments below or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram! I’d love to see what you make
Persian Rice with Potato Tahdig
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 1 tbsp salt , plus extra for seasoning (preferably kosher or sea salt, use less is using iodized salt)
- pinch saffron threads , ground or crushed
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 3 Yukon Gold potatoes , peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds, and left soaking in water
- 3 tbsp salted butter
- 1 tbsp oil , something neutral with a high smoking point, like grapeseed
- 1/4 cup dried barberries , soaked in hot water, optional
- Rinse the rice in cold water 2-3 times, or until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.
- Make saffron water by combining ground saffron with boiling water in a small bowl. Set aside to steep.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1 tbsp of salt. Stir to dissolve salt, then add rice and cook for about 5 minutes. Test the texture of the rice between your fingers. The grains should be soft on the edges but still firm in the middle - not fully cooked through. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Drain rice completely and set aside.
- Drain your potatoes and rinse any residual starch off. Shake off excess water, then pat dry with a towel or paper towel and set aside.
- Heat the oil and 1 tbsp of butter in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. When butter melts, add 1 tbsp of the saffron water (the water may sputter - be careful not to burn yourself!).
- Add the dry potatoes to the pan in a single flat layer and season with a little salt. Layer the partially cooked rice on top, pressing down on the rice gently to pack it down. Pour 1 tbsp of saffron water over the rice.
- Poke shallow holes into the rice and push in pats of butter, then smooth the top of the rice again.
- Place a clean kitchen towel or paper towel on top of the pan, cover with a lid, and wrap the excess towel around the lid. Be careful not to catch your towel on fire - especially if you are using a gas stove!
- Cook the rice on medium heat for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low for about 20 minutes. Lift the lid to check on the doneness of the potatoes and make sure they are not burning. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes or as needed. The dish is done with the potatoes are cooked through and crispy, and the rice at the top is also cooked through.
- Take the pan off the heat and remove the lid. Allow to cool briefly, then cover the pan with a large plate or serving platter, and carefully invert to serve. Do not do this over your stove! You should flip the dish out of the pan and onto the plate on your counter top.
- If using, drain barberries, and combine the remaining 1 tbsp of saffron water. Garnish with the saffron barberry mixture. Serve immediately. This dish has the best texture when fresh. Leftover potatoes will become soggy, however the leftover rice is still good the next day.
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