Persian Rice Timbale with Savoury Saffron and Chicken By Shayma Saadat

Tah-chin is a perfect dish to serve for special occasions, as you can have all of the components ready well in advance and all you have to do is assemble it and pop it into the oven before your guests arrive.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Chicken
½ cup full-fat plain yogurt
½ medium onion, finely diced
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground saffron mixed with 1½ tsp hot water, or crumbled saffron threads steeped in 1½ tsp hot water for 10 minutes (see Note, below)
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1½ -inch pieces

Rice
2 cups basmati rice
2 tsp kosher salt

Tah-dig
1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tsp ground saffron mixed with 1½ tsp hot water, or crumbled saffron threads steeped in 1½ tsp hot water for 10 minutes (see Note, below)
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dried zereshk (barberries)* or dried cranberries
¼ cup slivered or chopped unsalted pistachio nuts
¼ cup golden raisins

Note: I prefer to grind my saffron threads in a mortar and pestle, or to use purchased ground saffron, available in Persian and Pakistani specialty stores.

*Available in Persian specialty stores.

Marinate the chicken (up to 24 hours in advance): In a medium bowl, add the yogurt, onion, turmeric, saffron liquid, salt and pepper; stir well to combine. Stir in the chicken. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Prepare the rice (up to 2 days in advance): Wash and drain the rice 4 to 6 times in cold water until the water is no longer cloudy. Soak the rice in 4 cups of water for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. 

In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the rice and salt and cook, uncovered, for 13 to 15 minutes. To test for doneness, remove a grain of rice. If it breaks easily between your forefinger and thumb, it is done (be sure not to overcook). Drain the rice into a sieve, shaking out excess water (do not rinse).

Place the rice back into the saucepan. Place a folded tea towel or paper towel on top of the pan (to prevent steam from escaping) and cover the pan with the lid. Place the pan over low heat. Turn off the heat after 5 minutes (the rice will continue to cook in its own steam). Allow the rice to rest for 15 minutes. Using a serving spoon or teacup saucer, gently transfer the rice to a container. Set the rice aside (covered, in the refrigerator, if not using immediately).

Poach the chicken: In a medium pot, add ½-cup of water. Bring the water to a boil and add the chicken pieces and marinade. Bring the liquid up to a low boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the chicken until it is tender and no longer pink inside, about 10 minutes.  Set the chicken and cooking liquid aside.

Prepare the Tah-dig (Tah-dig is the delicious crispy crust that forms at the bottom of this dish): In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, egg yolk, saffron liquid, salt and pepper. Gently stir in 1½ cups of the cooked rice.

Assemble the Tah-chin: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a round 2-quart ovenproof dish (preferably see-through) with a lid. Transfer the rice and yogurt mixture into the baking dish. Using your hands, gently form a layer along the bottom and as far up the sides of the baking dish as possible.  Layer one-half of the cooked chicken in the dish. Layer one-half of the remaining cooked rice on top of the chicken. Repeat with the remaining chicken and rice. Press down the top layer of rice with your hands and drizzle with any of the remaining cooking liquid from the chicken. 

Butter a sheet of aluminum foil. Tightly wrap the foil, buttered side down, around the top of the baking dish. Place the lid on top. Bake for 2 hours.  You will see the tah-dig forming and turning a dark golden colour. 

Prepare the zereshk: If using barberries, clean them by removing any visible stems and place them (or dried cranberries, if using) in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. During this time, any sand that may have been present will sink to the bottom. Gently remove the zereshk with your hands and drain well on paper towels.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter.  When it begins to foam, add zereshk and stir for one minute. Transfer the zereshk to a small bowl; set aside.

Assemble the Tah-chin: After the baking dish is removed from the oven, allow it to rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Then place it in a large roasting pan and add enough cold water in the roasting pan to come about 1 inch up the outer sides of the baking dish. (This will help loosen the Tah-dig from the bottom of the dish.)

After 5 minutes, wearing your oven mitts, invert the Tah-chin onto the centre of a serving dish. (If you find that it sticks when you try to invert it, don’t worry; just put it back in the roasting pan and let it rest in the water a bit longer.) Garnish with the zereshk, slivered pistachios and golden raisins. Serve with Mast-o-khiar (recipe follows) on the side.

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