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Persian-Style Basmati Rice

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Persian rice is prepared by a unique technique, slowly cooking the rice in a heavy pan over very low heat until a crust forms on the bottom. Here, the rice is partially cooked on top of the stove and then finished in the oven. That, and using a well-seasoned or non-stick skillet, ensures that the crust will be golden and will slip out of the pan intact when inverted to make a spectacular presentation. This recipe has become a reliable friend as I have served it repeatedly, always to accompany a grilled leg of lamb. Don’t skimp on the clarified butter; it is essential to the success of the dish. (Clarified butter is preferred in this recipe, because the solids or milk proteins in butter burn when subjected to high temperatures.)

NotesFor this dish I prefer to use imported basmati rice, because it elongates more than the American basmati hybrids. I do not soak it, because the recipe calls for it to be cooked in plenty of boiling water (a technique preferred by many chefs), but I do rinse it, especially if it looks as if it contains dust or bits of chaff. To rinse, place in a bowl, fill with water, stir, and spoon off any debris that comes to the top; drain.

Makes6 to 8 servings

Cooking Methodbaking

CostModerate

Easy

Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseside dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturebuttery, chewy, savory, spiced

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces,
  • 2 cups uncooked basmati rice (see Notes)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 3 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onions
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat; do not brown. Remove from the heat and let stand until the solids settle to the bottom of the pan. Skim the foam from the top and spoon the clear liquid (the clarified butter) into a measuring cup; there should be ½ cup. Discard the solids on the bottom of the pan.

  2. Heat 8 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the rice, salt, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, and cardamom; cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is almost tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain immediately; let stand in the sieve until ready to use. (Leave the spices and peppercorns in the rice.)

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  4. Add 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter to a 10-inch heavy ovenproof skillet or wide saucepan, preferably nonstick. Add the onions; cook, stirring, until golden. Add the saffron threads; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

  5. Spread the onions evenly over the bottom of the pan. Spoon the rice on top. Drizzle with the remaining clarified butter; smooth the top and press down with a spatula. Cover with a double thickness of foil, pressing down on the foil to compact the rice. Bake until the bottom is crisp and golden, 55 to 60 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

  6. Uncover the pan, place a large platter over it, and carefully invert the rice onto the platter.

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