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Crispy Baked Rice Layered with Chicken + Giveaway

by Kristina Gill

When I was in my very early teens, my summer job for several years was to help out around my father’s architectural studio. I answered phones, made blueprints, figured out how to use workable fixatif to make postage stamps reusable (not that I actually reused any, because that would be a felony), and learned some Farsi. There were two Persian architects who also worked in the studio, Kathy and Mohsen. I was intrigued by their Post-It notes written in Farsi. Noticing my curiosity, they bought me a Farsi reader, taught me the alphabet and the first few pages, and I was off on my own.

This summer, when Naz Deravian reached out to me about her first cookbook, Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories, I told her how happy I was to see a new book about Persian food. After a few emails, we discovered that we both had in common living in Italy (though now she lives in Los Angeles) and learning from the same Farsi reader! I am beyond thrilled to share her recipe for Tahcheen-e Morgh, or Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken. It is a baked dish which is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, layered with juicy chicken and saffron rice. With the barberries and pistachios on top and the golden color imparted by the saffron, the dish makes a stunning impact with minimal effort. —Kristina

For a chance to win a copy of Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories, respond to the following question in the comments section below by October 5th, 5PM. What culture/country did you dream about most as a child, and why? Was it inspired by a family trip? Maybe it was that International Day in sixth grade when you were assigned Greece and had to make baklava? Or model UN when you and your friends dressed up like the Italian flag with green turtlenecks, white cummerbunds and red skirts? The winner will be announced in the comments section, so be sure to check in again!

About Naz: Naz Deravian is a writer and actor born in Iran, who grew up in Italy and Canada and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She is the award-winning voice behind the food blog Bottom of the Pot, which won the 2015 IACP Award for best culinary blog. She has also been twice nominated in several categories for the Saveur Food Blog Awards. Naz has been profiled in The New York TimesSunset magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler, among others.

Image above: Saffron threads, diluted in water.  All images by Eric Wolfinger.

Image above: Bottom of the Pot

Image above: Naz Deravian

Image above: Dried fruits, including barberries

Image above: Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken)

Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken)

Serves 8

Tahcheen means “arranged on the bottom,” and it is a beauty of a dish. Juicy pieces of saffron chicken are arranged on a thick yogurt-and-egg tahdig and topped with basmati rice.

Tahcheen can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. I prefer baking it in the oven because it can all be assembled ahead of time and then simply slipped into the oven. Use an oven-safe 9 x 13 x 2-inch clear glass casserole dish if possible. The glass dish allows you to spy on the tahdig and check on its progress. If you don’t have a glass dish any appropriate-sized baking dish will work. Tahcheen is equally spectacular to entertain with or enjoy with family on a quiet and cozy evening. Serve with a side of yogurt and Sabzi Khordan— a platter of fragrant, fresh green herbs, a few radishes, and raw green onions.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups white basmati rice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (plus more as needed)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in 2 tablespoons hot water (see note in steps below)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • Ground saffron for sprinkling
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • Topping
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup barberries, picked through and soaked for 15 minutes, drained
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Handful of raw pistachios, roughly chopped (optional)

Preparation

1

Parboil the rice chelo-style. Set aside to drain.

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken, 2 3/4 teaspoons salt, and the pepper, and cook until the chicken takes on a little color, about 3 minutes on each side. Add the lemon juice and the saffron water, turn the chicken pieces well in the bright orange sauce to coat all sides, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer, turning once in a while, until the chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if needed. Cut the chicken into ½-inch-long pieces and set aside in its juices.

Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack set in the lowest position.

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, and a tiny sprinkle of ground saffron. Fold in half of the parboiled rice, and set aside.

Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in the baking dish and place in the oven to melt, about 3 minutes. Swirl or brush the melted butter all over and up the sides of the dish. Spread the yogurt-rice mixture evenly on the bottom of the dish, pressing it down firmly. Add a layer of the chicken pieces evenly over the rice, top with a layer of the plain rice, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of chicken juices, smooth the top, and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the dish (if using a glass dish) to see if it is golden and crisp. Bake for an extra 5 to 10 minutes if necessary, but take care not to burn it. Take the tahcheen out of the oven, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Make the Topping: While the tahcheen rests prepare the barberry topping. In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the barberries, sugar, and pistachios, give a quick stir to plump up the barberries, and cook for about 2 minutes. Take off the heat. Run a knife along the sides of the tahcheen to help release it. Place a large rectangular serving platter, baking tray, or cutting board over the tahcheen, take a deep breath, and flip. Garnish with the barberry topping, pour yourself something tasty for a job well done, and gather around the table with friends and family. Cut the tahcheen in 8 or more pieces and dig in.

Make Ahead: The entire dish can be assembled a few hours in advance and stored in the fridge, covered. Bring to room temperature before placing in the oven.

Prep Ahead: The rice can be parboiled, drained, and set aside a few hours in advance
until ready to use.

Note on Saffron: When ready to use, bring a small amount of water to a boil, turn the kettle off, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle the specified amount of saffron in a small glass or bowl, and add the required amount of hot water (not boiling water, which is said to kill saffron’s soul). Stir, cover, and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. This process releases the flavor, color, and medicinal properties of the saffron. This is your saffron water, and it can be added to the dish as indicated.

Excerpted BOTTOM OF THE POT: Persian Recipes and Stories by Naz Deravian. Copyright © 2018 by Naz Deravian. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Eric Wolfinger.

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Comments

  • I was absolutely obsessed with Germany, because I had an aunt who lived there for many years. I was never able to visit (although my parents did, and were there when the Wall fell) but I learned a fair amount about the culture and food in the meantime, and managed to go for the first time myself 20 years after they did! We had a spaetzle press when I was growing up (thanks to my aunt—we are not even remotely German!), and I was fascinated by the oddly shaped pasta, which was so different from the dried egg noodles and spaghetti that we ordinarily ate.

  • What culture/country did you dream about most as a child, and why?

    I dreamed about Ireland! In 6th grade we had to do a mini-lesson for our class about a country of our heritage. My grandma is proudly Irish and helped me with my exhibit – including buying me Irish Spring Soap, haha! I made a stew for the class and of course, my favorite food – potatoes. :)

  • I was obsessed with England ! My grandma is from there and we always watch British mysteries and comedies on the PBS channel !! I have many fond memories of her , her food and watching those shows :)
    I did get to go to London for 10 days and it was lovely I would love to experiment with this book !!

  • I dreamt most about France when I was growing up, and food was a large part of the dream! I was studying the language as a child, which is how I first got exposed to the culture.

  • for me, it was actually Persia! It was the late fifties and early sixties, and European glossy boulevard magazines were full of pictures of the “unhappy empress“ Soraya and then of Farah Diba who had replaced her… I finally managed to visit 3 years ago and found the people very friendly and open and the sights astounding, but the food we were served unfortunately did not live up to my expectations… a copy of the cookbook would make me very happy! Regards from Vienna, anna

  • For me that country would be France. I loved the stories of Madeline and was involved in a lot of French programs since French is part of our culture in south Louisiana.

  • Growing up I always wanted to visit Norway. My great-grandparents emigrated from there and my family remembered their Norwegian heritage every year at Christmas time with special foods like lutefisk, lefse, sandbakkels, fattiman, and rosettes. As an adult I had to teach myself how to make lefse, a potato flatbread because that was something no one in my family learned how to make it. I haven’t managed to fit Norway into my travels yet but someday I will.

    One place I have visited that I never dreamed of going to but have been to is Iran. It is filled with wonderful landscapes, beautiful old architecture, ancient history and warm, welcoming people. I dream of visiting again and hopefully will be able to go there next Spring. In the meantime, I am learning to cook Persian food and would love a copy of Naz Deravian’s Bottom of the Pot to continue my exploration.

  • I always wanted to visit Mexico and really experience their food rather than our American version and when I did as an adult I was not disappointed!

  • Mexico! My father’s family is from there but shed so much of their culture/language to assimilate into 1950s America. It made me so sad and I feel like my whole life I’ve been connecting to my ancestors/ancestral culture through food, stories, music, and dreams.

  • When I was a kid, I wanted to go to India, especially to see the Taj Mahal. In 5th grade, we went on a field trip to the UN and our guide was Indian. She told us the story and I just fell in love with her speech and stories and how she made the Indian culture sound. It was so family oriented and she spoke with so much love.

  • Germany! My grandparents came from Bremen and Denmark. I was always fascinated by the language and customs. I was fortunate to be an exchange student in high school and was able to full fill my dream by living there for 13 months. My German family and I have stayed in touch and it is my go to vacation spot!

  • As a child I was most intrigued by Germany. Its greenery, cozy cottage architecture, castles, and Black Forrest Cake. I’m not sure that this cake’s origin is german, but I was very into the marriage of chocolate and cherries.

  • In a milatary family, you grow up with each state you live in looking and sounding like a new country, Maine to Florida! Florida to Virginia! Virginia to Hawaii!

    Meeting other kids whose families had had lived in Germany or Japan, those places seemed full of incalculable mystery, imbuing those kids with instant sophistication.

    But the country that Dad’s pilot friends were from, singing “Tie me Kangaroo Down, sport!” to my baby brother and me, that sounded the friendliest. AUSTRAILIA!

  • Australia because of the sunshine, surfers & laidbackness…growing up in a gray place, your mind automatically wanders to sunny places!

  • My dream of another country came true- if not on a permanent basis.
    It was absolutely the Beatles, the Stones, all the British Invasion, all British movies, Mary Quant, all things Mod, and all those really cute British guys that stirred in me my absolute quest to live in London one day.
    And that I did- for a year. Not in school- I actually got a job there, but that came to an end (and my legal work status) after a year, as the youth hostel where I worked closed down for repairs.
    It was everything and more that I hoped it would be. I truly wished I could have stayed.

  • Ireland – my Grammy was from the Dublin area. Finally visited in 2016 and fell in love! Could go back right this minute…or give me 5 to pack. teehee.

  • Probably Mexican, because I visited my Aunt in Los Angeles when I was young and they took me to all kinds of Mexcian restaurants — first time I had ever eaten Mexican food and I loved it. Still do!

  • Finland! I devoured a children’s book called ‘Bells on Finland Street’ about a girl who is a figure skater. I started taking figure skating lessons and twirling through my house wearing my skating dress, of course. I didn’t exactly know where Finland was and somehow I got it mixed up with Holland and I also started collecting wooden shoes. And rocks. Kids can be so weird! Definitely part of their charm! Here’s to weirdness.

  • I dreamed of Israel, because we had visitors from there. Also, in my reader, we had a nonfiction story on life on a kibbutz in Israel, and I thought that would be an amazing experience.

  • As a kid, I was always interested in France because I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, I thought berets and French women were chic, and I thought croissants and crepes were fancy. I ended up enrolling in French class and have been able to travel there a handful of times, where I fell in love with le fromage.

  • Italy. My paternal grandparents are Italian, and they were part of a very close-knit Italian community. They told enchanting stories of growing up in Italy, and of course, made amazing food. Nothing I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant could hold a candle to my grandma’s signature dishes, tortellini soup, and tortellacci. They were treated like gold in our family. If someone in the family were sick, she’d bring over tortellini soup and we dole them out to make sure we each got exactly the same even number of them. She cooked with inexpensive ingredients, and back then they didn’t sell the good aged parm or balsamic that she was used to, but every last thing was homemade. Even the simplest things were amazing. I loved to claim my Italian heritage.

  • As a kid I dreamed of France. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. I thought berets and French women were chic. I also loved croissants and crepes. I ended up picking French as my language and have been fortunate to visit the county a handful of times, where I fell in love with le fromage.

  • I was a total Anglophile as a child! I think it’s because I was a big reader (proud nerdy kid here) and so many classic books I read growing up (and by that I mean Sherlock Holmes and its ilk) were British. My first international trip outside North America was to England, and we got to stay in a castle in the Cotswalds, and it was everything I imagined. After law school, I went on to work for a British law firm and spent several years visiting regularly for work (and since leaving that job now try to visit to reconnect with friends), so my Anglophilia endures; given this, it’s odd even to me that though I’ve lived for six-month stints in several other countries around the world, I’ve never actually lived in the U.K. Maybe someday…

  • The country would be Chile. My family is from there. I remember making empanadas and baking them in the outdoor stove. Also the Féria with abundance of produce. Things I had never seen stateside like cherimoyas, lucuma, and fresh olives.

  • Wow! Who knew so many kids dreamed of Germany, by far the most popular country on our thread! I had a bunch of obsessions… Australia (I joined the Men at Work fan club!), Germany, (trip as a child), Italy (trip as a child+Model UN), and England (thanks cable TV and Peter Sellers). but Kathryna you get the prize because your obsession with Finland confused with the Netherlands turned into collecting wooden shoes and rocks wins!

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