This happens to be one of my absolute favorite Persian dishes. It is not purely conventional as there are some additions to this recipe that take it from a pure Persian cook to a slightly Americanized version. You’ll see as we go down this road below.
Before I get too carried away, this recipe is rather simple and straight forward. It is not a difficult dish to cook, it is just time consuming. I’m also going to be giving you some of the “passed down” instructions so bear with me.
A note on ingredients: You’ll want to find a local Persian market because this recipe is best served with a specific Persian Yogurt.
You’ll want this exact yogurt. There is something to the tartness and overall flavor profile of this yogurt that just compliments the dish perfectly. As I post some of the other family recipes here, you’ll want to frequent that same local Persian market in order to find things like Turmeric and Sumac, but that isn’t required for this dish. Now let’s get started.
- 4 medium chicken breasts
- 4 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- .5 oz dried dill weed
- 6 tbsp butter (unsalted is fine)
- 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil (varies by pot size)
- ~2 tbsp salt (to speed up water boil)
- Garlic powder, to taste
- 1 bag of black eyed peas (I’ll try to find the specific size and edit this later)
- Lots of water (follow along)
- 1-2 white onions (optional, but recommended)
- 1 tub Persian yogurt (optional, but recommended)
- Soy Sauce (optional, for taste)
For this dish, you’ll have a few pots going at once. Keep a cold beer or a glass of water handy, your kitchen will be warm by the time this is done. Read through once to the end so you can have your pots running in parallel.
- Rinse and thoroughly clean the chicken breast. In a large pot, bring the 4 chicken breasts to a boil (use enough water to completely submerge the chicken). Sprinkle on 2-3 tbsp salt to bring to a boil more quickly. Sprinkle on enough garlic powder to dust the surface of the water, not overly liberally. Cover. Once the water reaches a boil, reduce to medium heat and cook until the chicken is completely cooked. Once cooked, set aside to cool then shred the chicken with forks, bear claws or your hands. Do not discard the cooking liquid, we’ll be using this as a light stock later on. Just turn off the heat until you have everything ready to move on to the next steps.
- In a separate pot, empty the bag of black eyed peas and fill with water. Bring to a boil uncovered, checking the peas frequently. When the peas are soft and can be chewed without effort, take them off the water. The peas will significantly increase in size so make sure you account for this with the pot size and amount of water. Once the peas are done, drain and set aside.
- In a large bowl (while the chicken is cooking), place 4 1/2 cups of basmati rice and submerge completely, leaving a half inch more water than the level of the rice. Gently sift through the rice with your hands to clean and allow the rice to rest in the water bath for 30+ minutes. When the chicken is cooked you can drain the liquid from the large bowl. Leave the rice in this bowl.
- In the pot you cooked the chicken and preserved the cooking liquid, add 2 cubes of chicken bouillon. Our pot is a 7 quart pot, so you’ll want enough water to fill the pot 3/4 full. In our case this is a total of around 5 quarts, or a total of 21 cups of total liquid (including the original cooking liquid). Over high heat, bring the liquid back up to a boil, and let the cubes fully dissolve. Once boiling, add the rice to the boiling water leaving the pot uncovered. Allow to cook for 5-7 minutes checking the rice frequently. When the rice is roughly 1.5 times it’s original size, drain the rice completely and empty the pot, and return the rice to the large bowl (please clean the bowl first). Don’t worry if a few grains of rice are left on the walls of the pot. Add the 6 tbsp of butter to the pot, and use enough vegetable oil to completely cover the base of the pot. Over medium heat melt the butter completely.
- With the rice in the large bowl, gently fold in the dried dill weed, chicken and black eyed peas. Use care to gently fold the ingredients together so as not to damage or break apart the rice.
- Once the butter is fully melted, stir in all of the rice, chicken, dill and black eyed peas. Using a large, clean dish towel, wrap the towel around the lid of your pot to create a moisture catch tent, then cover the pot keeping the towel tucked under the handle of the lid so as not to start a small fire. (See picture below.) Increase the heat to medium-high, and cook for precisely 15 minutes.
- At the 15 minute mark, reduce the heat to low. For me I use the major burner for the preceding steps, so I actually slide the pot over to a smaller burner for the low heat. Cook on low for 22-25 minutes - this varies by taste (more on this below). Start with 22 minutes for one preparation and determine if you like things a bit darker. I like 22 minutes, my mom shoots for 25.
- Once the 22 (or 25) minutes is complete, remove from heat. The best way to plate this is to take a large serving platter, something with a larger diameter than the pot and place the dish upside down on the top of the pot. Using pot holders (and possibly a 2nd set of hands), flip the pot and dish over and lift the pot off the dish. You are now ready to eat.
If you are willing to brave the white onion, and I highly stress you do (this is a very Persian thing to do), cut the onion in half then quarter each half creating wedges. The onion strips from the quarters is eaten raw with the rice and adds a great flavor to the dish.
Place a scoop of yogurt alongside the rice, and sprinkle on some Soy Sauce for taste. As I mentioned, we Americanize this a bit.
This recipe creates enough rice to feed 10 easily with a healthy supply of leftovers. This reheats wonderfully with a few splashes of water in a bowl in the microwave so you can enjoy this over, and over again. Once heated just add the soy, onion and yogurt.
Why the tent?
Ah, good question. You see the tent acts as a moisture catch. While the rice is cooking, the moisture accumulates on the lid normally. That moisture then drips back into the rice and turns it into a mush that is not appealing. Also, by allowing the moisture to collect in the towel, the edges of the rice along the bottom and partially up the sides of the pot will create this wonderful crust we call tahdig. The crispiness of the tahdig adds a wonderful textural element to the dish.
As a last note, I use 22 minutes as the tent draws out a lot of moisture and leaves the rice very dry. The shorter cooking duration in the last step increases the moisture a touch and doesn’t let the tahdig to get too brown. But this is my preference, have fun experimenting.