Making a decent Persian rice dish requires approximately one hour. It is worth the time though, as it turns out fluffy and white, each grain of rice remaining separate. Persians can really eat a lot of rice (by American standards), so if you’re going to have Persians over for dinner, plan on one cup uncooked rice per person.
You may wish to try your hand at making Persian rice a few times before inviting guests over to try it, as Persian rice does require a certain amount of skill derived from practice. Note that when doubling or tripling the following recipe (or the other ones in the rice section), during the steaming process the rice at the bottom of the pot should be “tossed” with the rice near the top midway through. If this is not done, the rice on the bottom half of the pot may become mushy by the time that the top half is done.
Chelo is the basic fluffy white rice with no additions. Persian stews are served over this rice.
Servings: About 6
2 c. white rice, medium to long grain
1 T. cooking oil
1 T. salt
Step 1 (Soaking): Rinse 2 c. rice in warm water until the water runs clear (this step removes excess surface starch). Cover the rice with enough water such that the water stands one inch over the rice. Stir in 1/2 T. salt. Soak the rice overnight or at least four hours. (If you forget to soak the rice, go ahead and rinse it well before boiling it, but be aware that the rice may turn out on the “less-fluffy” side.)
Step 2 (Parboiling): In a 3 qt. non-stick saucepan, bring 1 1/2 qt. water and 1/2 T. salt to a hard boil. Pour the “soaking” water off the rice, and add the rice to the boiling water. Boil (turn the heat down if the water starts to froth), stirring occasionally for 6-8 minutes. When the rice looks as though it has doubled in size per grain (after approximately 6 minutes), take a grain and bite through it with your front tooth. The rice should feel cooked but still stiff in the core. If more than just the core is stiff, continue to boil. Sample a grain every half minute or so after this point (if the rice was still too stiff), and remove from the heat as soon as it is ready (you don’t want to over-boil the rice at this step). While the rice is boiling, set a colander into the sink. Pour the boiled rice into the colander. Rinse the rice with cold water until the rice is cold throughout (this separates the grains and removes more surface starch). Shake out the water or let the rice sit and drain until no water drips out of the colander.
Step 3 (Steaming): Wipe dry the inside of the pot used to boil the rice with a paper towel. Set the pot on the burner, and set the burner to medium high heat. Add 1 T. oil and spread evenly around the bottom. Let the oil heat up. Spoon the rice gently into the pot, being careful not to pack it down. Spoon the rice such that the result is a nice rounded mound. Drizzle 1/2 T. oil over the rice, followed by 3 T. water (this will make the steam). Cover the pot with a paper towel or dish towel, and then put on the lid (the cloth absorbs the steam such that it can’t drip down from the lid, which would make the rice soggy). After 5 minutes, turn the heat to low, and steam approximately 30-40 minutes. You will hear sizzling and steaming noises during this process. Give the rice a taste test after the 30 minute point—it may or may not be ready at this point. Makes four 1 1/2 cup servings.
Note: Making Tadeek
As mentioned above, during the steaming step you will hear a muffled frying sound coming from the base of the pot, and this is fine—you are making “tadeek,” which means “bottom of the pot.” Tadeek is fried crispy rice; it can be scraped up and eaten with the meal. It should be noted that if using a non-teflon pot, you will require more oil on the bottom of the pot, or you may have trouble removing the tadeek. Perfect tadeek is golden brown, and may require a few trial runs on your part.
Tadeek Variation: When the oil in the bottom of the pot gets hot, add 1/3 inch thick slices of peeled raw potato. Potatoes will fry while the rice steams.
Recipe © Nura Amerson 1991
I’ve made chelo countless times, and each time I wait with bated breath to see how it—or, specifically, the tadeek—turns out. Sometimes it burns. Sometimes it is undercooked. But sometimes, it turns out perfectly!
The photo above is from one of my most successful chelo-making attempts. The stakes were high, as the chelo was going to be served with several Persian stews made in honor of an Iranian friend by several other Iranians. So, I was feeling some pressure, knowing I’d be feeding discerning palates!
At the end of the steaming process, the Iranian guests helped me turn the pot over into a pan to reveal the tadeek—and there it was, the golden crust with golden-brown potatoes that every Persian cook aspires to! My chelo was able to proudly take its place at the table among the delicious Persian stews.