Having just returned from a Blogger Summit hosted by Dole Packaged Foods, time slipped away, and this post did not make it up before the Persian New Year celebration. It officially began on Thursday, and the next few days will mark the happy time that commemorates Spring and the start of a “new day”. This traditional Persian dish is an appropriate ode to the colorful, bright, sweet and savory aspects of this season, this New Year in fact.
Just like our New Year celebration, the Persian New Year begins at a very specific time. It is based on the sun’s travels, marking the start of Spring–precisely the second the sun crosses the equator. Families gather around a ceremonial display decorated with seven items, all of which belong with the letter “s”, that represent all of the good things we want in life, such as health, wealth, longevity, renewal and more. So in light of Spring and yet another opportunity to celebrate a “new day”, it is high time you try this recipe for a classic Persian dish.
A number of Persian dishes are based on rice or served alongside rice. Long grain, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice is an important part of the food culture. The key to make grain rice for these dishes is extensive rinsing and draining of the grains to remove as much of the starch as possible. You want the water to run clear, so if you’re not sure, just rinse again. It’s nearly impossible to rinse your rice too much. The grains are then soaked, up to overnight, and rinsed again before cooking. Boil the rice in a very large pot of water, and once al dente, drain and rinse, yet again, under cold water. If you want a very in-depth picture-by-picture rundown, check out Fig & Quince’s explanation.
Now that you’re familiar with the rice process, it’s time to step it up. There is a very royal aspect to shirin polo because it is studded with “jewels” of many sorts–green pistachios, golden almonds, red dried berries–and they all sit in a bed of orangey yellow rice dyed and scented with saffron. You can probably smell and taste it already! If you have an orange sitting around, feel free to dust the top with zest. The aroma and flavor will do nothing but enhance the meal. What you absolutely cannot forget is the tahdig. It is not an ingredient, but rather a key element. You may often find it spelled tag digh, tadig or tadik as well, but it is all the same. This is the crispy, caramelized rice crust that develops from a mixture of butter and sugar. It is also the layer of the dish that many people will fight over if you serve this dish for a big crowd.
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 pound chicken breast, cubed
- ¼ cup raw pistachios, toasted
- ½ cup raw slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
- ¼ cup currants or cranberries*
- 2 large pinches saffron
- ¼ cup warm water
- 2 cups cooked long-grain rice
- ⅛ cup sugar
- Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish
- Drop 1 tablespoon butter and the safflower oil into a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until they turn translucent.
- Add the chicken breast and cook until the meat is opaque and no longer pink on the inside, approximately 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Transfer the cooked onions and chicken into a large bowl, and mix in the pistachios, almonds, currants or cranberries, saffron, water and rice.
- In the same medium pan used to cook the onions and chicken, heat the remaining butter with the sugar over medium high flame. Swirl all around the pan, making sure to coat the bottom and all the way up the sides. Immediately spoon all of the rice mixture into the pan and press down flat. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until you hear a crackling sound from the cooked rice. Use a spatula to carefully check the sides for browning.
- Flip the rice over onto a large serving platter, so the golden brown and crispy bits are on top. Garnish with parsley or cilantro, and serve immediately.
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