Saffron-Flavored Steamed Rice with Golden Crust By Najmieh Batmanglij

6 servings.

4 cups long-grain basmati rice
10 cups water
2 tablespoons sea salt
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tablespoon rose water

1 cup oil, melted butter, or ghee
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in
4 tablespoons rose water or hot water
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or nigella seeds or coriander seeds), optional


Pick over the rice. Basmati rice like any other old rice contains many small solid particles. This grit must be removed by picking over the rice carefully by hand. Wash the rice by placing it in a large container and covering it with lukewarm water. Agitate gently with your hand, then pour off the water. Repeat 5 times until the rice is completely clean. When washed rice is cooked it gives off a delightful perfume that unwashed rice does not have. If using long-grain Amer­ican or Texmati rice, it is not necessary to wash or soak the rice. After washing the rice it is then desirable but not essential to soak it in 8 cups water with 2 tablespoons salt for 2 to 24 hours. Soaking and cooking rice with plenty of salt firms it up to support the long cooking time and prevents the rice from breaking up. The grains swell individually without sticking together. The result is a light and fluffy rice. In a 5-quart, non-stick pot (11 1/4 inches diameter and 3 1/4 inches deep), bring 10 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt, cardamom, and rose water. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly over high heat for 6 to 10 minutes (depends on the kind of rice you are using), gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains. If the rice feels soft, and all the rice has risen to the top, it is ready. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse with 2 or 3 cups cold water. To make golden crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup water, a few drops of saffron water, 2 tablespoons yogurt, 3 spatulas of rice (about 2 1/2 cups), and the cumin seeds. Spread the yogurt-rice mixture over the bottom of the pot, give it a shake to even it out, and pack it down using your hands. This will help to create a tender golden crust when the rice is cooked. Take one spatula full of drained rice at a time and gently place it on top of the yogurt and rice mixture, gradually shaping the rice into a pyramid. This shape leaves room for the rice to expand and enlarge. Cover and cook rice for 10 minutes over medium-high heat to form a golden crust. Mix the remaining oil with 1/2 cup hot water and pour over the rice pyra­mid. Drizzle the rest of the saffron water over the top. Wrap the lid with a clean dish towel and cover firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 70 minutes longer over medium-low heat (this is for a gas flame; adjust according to your cooktop). Remove the pot from heat. Allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. This helps to free the crust from the bottom of the pot. Uncover and loosen the edges with a wooden spatula. There are two ways to unmold and serve the rice. The first is to hold the serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot and invert the two together, unmolding the rice onto the platter. The rice will emerge as a golden-crusted cake. Serve in wedges. The second way is to take 2 tablespoons of the saffron rice from the top and set aside for garnish. Gently taking one spatula full of rice at a time, place it on a serving platter without disturbing the crust. Mound the rice into a cone. Garnish with the saffron rice on top. Detach the layer of crust from the bottom using a wooden spatula. Place the pieces of crust into a small platter and serve on the side or arrange the crust around the rice platter.

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