Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tah Chin - Rice with Chicken
I'm having an affair.
Didn't see it coming either.
A beautiful exotic stranger flirted with me and I've fallen, hard. Charms that were impossible to resist, of thoughtfully spiced dishes, layered with complexity and full of allure, ensured my heart beat has been tied to a new found rhythm of Persian sensuality.
Iranian food is not heavily spiced, rejecting the ferociousness of their Indian relatives' approach; one bite and gentle flavours intriguingly play out across the tongue, always inviting another mouthful.
Saffron is a spice that some don't quite get. Melbourne food critic, Stephen Downes, has called it a brute of a spice, others have compared it to the taste of rusty nails, like an old dowager smothered in Chanel #5, vainly attempting to recapture the youthful attention of her salad days, whose over indulgence only assaults the nostrils.
But when combined by a sensitive hand with turmeric, it becomes redolent of ancient bazaars supplied by merchants plying the silk route with their camels, speaking the history of a nation.
These two spices are perhaps the heart and soul of Iranian food and in combination with another staple, rice, form the very foundation of the native cuisine. It is what first drew me to its bosom, rice cooked using the chelo method, firstly briefly boiled until al dente, then mounded in a frypan and cooked until a tahdig (crust) forms. The idea of cooking the rice layered with other ingredients, polo style, saw me swoon completely.
Kind of like a geological formation, isn't it? Note the white rice at the bottom, then layers of rice coated with egg, yoghurt and saffron, divided by a gently spiced chicken layer.
Tah Chin - Rice with Chicken
(Adapted from the Persian Kitchen by Neda Afrashi)
600g basmati rice
4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
1 large carrot
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 good pinches saffron
2 bay leaves
fresh ground pepper
1 heaped tablespoon yoghurt
80ml boiling water
Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in a bowl of water with 2 tablespoons salt.
Brown the chicken thigh pieces in a little oil until brown, remove. Peel the onion and carrot, chop finely, then brown in the same pot. Return the chicken and add the turmeric, 1 good pinch of saffron, the bay leaves, salt and fresh ground pepper. Just cover with water, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour with the lid ajar, until the chicken just falls apart and the water has reduced to a thick sauce. When cool, break the chicken into bite sized pieces.
Grind the remaining saffron into a powder in a mortar and pestle and dissolve in about 40ml boiling water.
Whisk the eggs and yoghurt in a bowl until combined, then stir in the saffron water.
Drain the rice and cook in a large pot with plenty of boiling salted water until not quite cooked (al dente), drain. Mix half the rice with the egg, yoghurt and saffron. Heat some oil in a non stick pan and place in about half of this flavoured rice, then top with the chicken mixture, then the rest of the flavoured rice, then top this with the rest of the plain rice.
Traditionally, the lid of the pan is covered with a cloth on the inside to absorb the steam, but not having a lid to my pan, just covered it loosely with tin foil. Cook on the lowest heat possible until a nicely browned crust has formed, about 45 minutes.
Leave to rest for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a plate, cut into wedges and serve with plain yoghurt.