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Saffron rice

LanguedocLiving, Jan 24

Many people have been asking for my authentic Isfahani rice recipe with an Indian twist. Here’s the secret.  

It looks long-winded, but don't worry, it's really simple, you just need a light touch with the rice to make sure you don't break the ends off.

Serves 6

Ingredients

3 cups of good basmati rice
Knob of butter
4 Cardamom seeds
Baton of cinnamon
Small pinch of saffron threads

Method

Soak the rice in cold water for at least 2 hours, preferably for 6 hours.

About an hour and a half before you’re ready to serve the rice, fill a large heavy-bottomed pan with water, and bring it to the boil. Add salt to the water. They say that it should taste like sea water – so add plenty. Don’t worry, most of it will be washed away.

Strain your rice which has been soaking, and carefully add it into the pan of boiling water.

After about 5 minutes, the rice should be slightly harder than al-dente. At this stage, strain the rice and the water into a big sieve and let the water drain away.

Put a large knob of butter back into the pan, and melt it. Don’t worry about the grains of rice which have been left behind in the pan.

Next, you need to very gently put half the rice back into the pan. It’s very important that you treat the grains of rice carefully, as you don’t want the ends of the rice to break off. You’ll get soggy rice if this is the case.

With half the rice in the pan, scatter the seeds of 2 green cardamoms (take the green husk off) over the rice. Add the rest of the rice, forming a loose dome of rice in the pan, and then scatter the seeds of 2 more green cardamoms.

Gently push the cinnamon baton into the top of the mound, so that it forms a chimney just poking out from the rice.

At this stage, I also add the saffron, although traditionally it’s added when the rice has been cooked.  Grind a small pinch of saffron with quarter tsp of sugar in a small pestle and mortar, or a small glass, until the saffron is powder. Add splash of nearly boiling water, and mix well.

Pour the saffron mix around the top of the rice. Don’t be tempted to stir it, you don’t want to move the rice.

Wrap a tight-fitting pan lid in a tea towel, by putting the lid on the towel, and then drawing up the diagonal corners together, and tying them on top.

Fit the lid onto the pan, and put the rice on to a very low heat for around 50 minutes.  Make sure the lid is really tight, you don't want any steam to escape.

Don’t be tempted to lift the lid – you’ll disturb the steaming process.

When the rice is ready, it should be plump, steaming, and each grain should separate.

Carefully spoon out the rice onto a platter with a flat spatula, being careful not to break the rice as you do it.

On the bottom on the pan, you should find a lovely golden buttery crust of rice, which is traditionally upturned onto a plate and served separately.

Other ingredients to add:

You can add other ingredients at the stage where you add the cardamom and cinnamon. I often add confit of orange skin, or confit kumquats (which you can buy in most large French markets), or pistachios, onion seeds and almonds. 

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