Why do I have a feeling that I have been absent from this blog lately? Coherent thoughts about food seem to escape me at the moment. I really blame the vampires of True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’ve been sucked (was that an intended pun?) into their fascinating supernatural world for the past month and I’ve read five books back to back and trolled around youtube for addictive snippets from the show. Pathetic …I know. I feel almost like I’m back in high school except I’m crushing on more dangerous heartthrobs…oh wait vampires do not have beating hearts … 😀 (I’m on team Eric, btw, who is portrayed flawlessly by the talented Alexander Skarsgard).
I’m still thinking of a dish to make for the season finale (September 13), any suggestions? I’ve gotten some interesting responses from twitter, whether I’ll follow through with a beet colored dish for the last episode remains to be seen, I was underwhelmed with the season’s penultimate installment – “Frenzy” and might not feel as excited in two weeks.
Anyway, the “Hungry” Hubby had been after me to make Tah Chin for a while now. I failed miserably once and have since made adjustments to my understanding of the recipe. The trademark of this dish is the tasty crust that forms by mixing yogurt, saffron and rice together. And yes, it uses an obscene amount of clarified butter which is essential for the crust to form and detach from the pot. Be sure to check out my cooking notes at the end of the recipe.
Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. skinless chicken, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crush
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 tsp. ground saffron dissolved in 4 tbs. hot water
3 cups long-grain basmati rice
3/4 cup clarified butter or oil
Notes: The original recipe called for 1 1/2 tsp. cumin and 1 tsp. advieh – a persian spice mix for rice. I omitted both spices that would have been added to the yogurt-rice mixture because Hungry Hubby did not care for it much.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place one onion, salt, pepper, and meat in an oven-proof baking dish. Cover and bake for 1 hour, drain and allow to cool.
In a bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, one onion and saffron water. Add salt to taste and marinate the meat in this mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.
Bring 8 cups water and 2 tbs. salt to a boil in a large pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains. If the rice feels soft, it is ready. Drain in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 to 3 cups lukewarm water.
Heat 1 tbs. oil in a non-stick skillet and saute the last onion. Preheat oven to 350F. Remove the meat from the marinade. Combine the beaten egg yolks, 4 spatulas of rice, sauteed onion, half of the marinade.
Heat 1/2 cup butter or oil in Pyrex baking dish in the oven. Add the mixture of rice and marinade, spread it across the bottom and up the sides of the baking dish. Place the meat pieces on top, cover with layers of rice and rest the marinade (If you want to add the barberry layer, check out how to prepare this tier below). Pour the rest of the butter over the rice. Pack firmly using wooden spoon and cover with oiled aluminum foil.
Place baking dish in the oven and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the bottom turns golden brown.
Remove baking dish from oven. Allow to cool on damp surface for 10 to 15 minutes (do not uncover). Then loosen the rice around the edges of the baking dish with the point of a knife. Place a large serving dish over the baking dish. Hold both dishes firmly together with two hands and turn them upside down.
Serve hot with fresh herbs, yogurt, and Persian pickles (torshi)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Bring 1 lb. of butter to boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until foam subsides. Let sit for 5 minutes and then strain over muslin cloth or 3 layers of cheesecloth to separate clear butter from the milk solids.
Barberry layer (zereshk)
This is not in the original recipe but Hungry Hubby requested that I add this.
2 cups dried barberries cleaned, washed and drained
1 onion, medium, diced
2 tbs. butter
4 tbs. sugar
Place the berries in a colander. Place the colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.
Saute 1 sliced onion in 2 tbs. butter, add the barberries and saute for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tbs. sugar, mix well and set aside.
You can add this layer after adding a thin covering of rice to the chicken tier. I used only 3/4 cup in my recipe and it is nowhere enough which is why I increased it to two cups in this recipe.
This took me half a day to prepare. The steps could be broken up into stages if you do not have a contiguous block of time to devote in a day . You can prepare the clarified butter and marinate the chicken, the day before. There are several ways to prepare the meat in this dish. You can choose to bake it first before marinating in yogurt and saffron, which is what I did. You can also marinate the uncooked meat in yogurt, salt, pepper, saffron water (cumin and advieh) and then proceed to the step to clean and wash the rice. A third choice is cooking the meat separately which is how my sister-in-law prepares her Tah Chin – a method I am curious to try next time. Cooking the chicken twice makes it a tad drier and mixing the raw chicken with cooked rice is a bit icky even if the dish is going to be cooked for another 2 hours. I may also have cooked the chicken too long during its initial bake. The original recipe called for lamb and I probably should have reduced the cooking time by 15 minutes.
The most important step I feel is washing the rice as directed – 5 times until the water runs clear. This was my failure on the previous attempt: when I boiled the rice it got too starchy and instead of getting loose grains of rice after the initial cooking they kind of stuck together.
For the yogurt, I decided to drain it so I’d get a more concentrated flavor and I think the reduced moisture will improve the development of the crust. I used up two pints of yoghurt. I drained 1 1/2 pints by wrapping the yogurt in a flour sack kitchen towel (you can also use muslin or several layers of cheese cloth) and reserved the remaining half pint to adjust the viscosity of the marinade.
I baked the Tah chin in 9 by 13 pyrex baking dish so I can monitor the development of the crust better. I actually adjusted my cooking temperature to 365F after the first hour and added another 30 minutes for a total baking time of 2.5 hours.
So if you want to get over the angst of waiting for a show to air, just get cooking in your kitchen with a dish that would preferably take the whole day to prepare – stuffed boneless duck, anyone?