For Iranian cookbook author Naz Deravian, tahdig—the golden layer of rice that crisps up at the bottom of the pot—recalls a sense of hope, satisfaction, and nostalgia. It’s a humble preparation, sometimes involving nothing more than rice and butter, but the cooking process is precise and calculated, typically involving parboiling the rice until its exterior is tender but interior maintains a bite. The rice is then drained, the pot cleaned and replaced on the stove with a pool of butter melting in the bottom. In Deravian’s home, the rice is tossed with a splash of saffron-infused water before it’s packed down into the bottom of the pan, and steamed until it’s fully cooked. The prized crust is only revealed when the pot is upturned onto a serving plate—only then can you see whether or not you’ve succeeded.
When she was only eight years old, in 1979, Deravian’s family fled Iran in the midst of the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis. At the time, they hadn’t realized that they would never again return. The next decade was spent traversing the world in search of a new home, as Deravian recalls, “always, with the scent of saffron and a perfectly steamed pot of rice trailing us across oceans and borders.” From Iran, they immigrated to Rome before ultimately settling in Vancouver. After leaving Vancouver to pursue an acting career in L.A., Deravian says, “I quickly found myself hungry. Not because of an actual lack of food, but because I was starved for a home-cooked Persian meal, for a taste of home.” Deravian called her mother and frantically took notes on her verbal “recipes.” To Deravian, tahdig is more than a pot of rice with a carefully formed crust; it’s the physical representation of the hope that lingers in the air around her family meals.
While Deravian says even an imperfect tahdig is still worth celebrating, mastering the art requires careful attention, the right equipment, and a little hope. If you pull it off, you’ll hear the “swish of the release as the rice drops from pot to dish,” says Deravian, revealing, “golden and regal—the tahdig herself.”
According to Deravian, only fragrant extra-long-grain rice is appropriate for making tahdig—the individual grains must remain separate during the cooking process. Although you must still prepare the rice according to specific instructions to maintain the integrity of each singular saffron-stained jewel, using this variety of rice mimics the long-grain rice grown in the Iranian rice paddies of Deravian’s youth. Royal
Deravian instructs us that a nonstick pot is crucial in ‘allowing the rice to release from the pan in a cohesive mass.’ In the SAVEUR test kitchen, we prefer this nonstick pan from GreenPan above all others. Its non-toxic, nonstick ceramic coating ensures that your tahdig will smoothly drop out of the pan, leaving less reason to stress and more reason to gasp in astonishment as the tahdig is revealed. GreenPan
Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is one of the key ingredients in Deravian’s Iranian recipes. It’s ubiquitous in Persian food, found in both sweet and savory dishes as well as drinks. Blooming the saffron before adding it to the rice is of utmost importance in using the spice economically. The process of crushing the saffron strands between your fingers or in a mortar and pestle before adding warm—not boiling—water helps maintain the ‘soul’ of the spice. Saffron gives the rice its golden, sunny hue and delicate floral flavor. Alma Courmet
The process of making rice for tahdig is more complex than simply boiling rice in a pot. It involves first parboiling the rice, then draining it, before replacing it in the pan with butter or oil to steam. In order to allow the rice to steam while ensuring that the excess water vapor doesn’t drip back down into the pot, you’ll need a large dish towel to wrap around the lid. This variety is favored by the SAVEUR test kitchen for its size and absorbency. Aunti Em’s Kitchen
A large serving plate is essential for serving Persian rice with tahdig—the pot must be inverted onto a plate or tray large enough to hold it so that the crispy bottom will become the top. Any large plate or platter will do, but this one is the perfect size for a tahdig made in our favorite pan, and we love how the deep midnight blue complements the golden hues of the saffron rice. Pottery Barn
When you’ve mastered tahdig and are ready to try a dish like tahcheen, which means ‘arranged on the bottom,’ a glass casserole dish allows you to monitor the color and crispiness of the bottom crust while it cooks. While tahcheen can be made on the stovetop as well, we appreciate the opportunity to arrange all the ingredients in advance and just throw the dish in the oven. The golden baked tahdig is just as impressive but even easier to pull off. Pyrex