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Chelow (Persian Steamed White Rice) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Extra floor starch is eliminated in two phases, as soon as when the dry rice is washed totally and once more when it’s parboiled, leading to fluffy, separate grains.
  • Steaming the rice eliminates the necessity to discover a precise rice-to-water ratio, making certain persistently completely cooked rice that is neither soggy nor undercooked.
  • Seasoning the rice with salt all through the cooking course of ensures the salt penetrates every grain, for extra scrumptious remaining outcomes.

Over the centuries, the Iranian love of rice has led to extraordinary refinements in rice preparation strategies and myriad ingenious rice dishes. Chelow, conventional Persian steamed white rice that is usually served alongside braises, stews, and grilled meats, is essentially the most esteemed amongst them. It’s aromatic, gentle and fluffy, with every grain of rice separate from the following, and snow-white, save for a little bit of saffron typically added to boost it. 

Early overseas explorers who traveled in Iran way back to the seventeenth century wrote intimately concerning the exemplary nature of Persian-style rice dishes. Trusted up to date culinary specialists are of the identical opinion. For instance, Harold McGee, who has written extensively concerning the chemistry and historical past of meals science and cooking in his seminal ebook, On Meals and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, wrote that he considers “Iranians, maybe, essentially the most refined rice cooks.”

The precept strategies behind chelow are:

  • totally washing and soaking long-grain white rice to hydrate the grains and take away floor starches that may trigger the rice to clump;
  • parboiling the rice for just some minutes till it’s partially cooked;
  • cooking the rice a second time with mild steam, which brings it to excellent doneness with none threat of there being an excessive amount of or too little water within the completed dish.

Some could discover this preparation a bit elaborate, however the modest further effort is nicely value it as you may be delighted by the excellence of the outcomes. After making it a few times, the steps concerned turn into second nature.

Persian Rice Tradition

Whereas archaeological proof suggests rice was first launched to the Iranian Plateau roughly three thousand years in the past, the continual cultivation of berenj (برنج), the phrase for rice in Persian, dates to round 500 BCE through the Persian Achaemenid dynasty and continues to the current time. Though paperwork from the Persian Sassanian Dynasty period (224-652 CE) present rice having turn into a minor participant in culinary habits of royal Persian courts, it wasn’t till the Safavid Dynasty period of the sixteenth century when rice preparation had turn into extra elaborate, extra refined, and with elevated selection.

Rice cooking strategies in Iran and the bigger Persianate communities all over the world are uniquely totally different from rice preparation in different “rice cultures” of the world. Furthermore, Iranians’ mindset about rice additionally differs significantly from different cultures.  

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari


Not like in lots of components of Asia, rice isn’t essentially the most vital staple meals for almost all of Iranians—bread is. Persians typically have such a excessive regard for rice that they are extra prone to cook dinner one thing else than accept lower-quality varieties. On the identical time, nonetheless, no visitor—stranger or acquaintance, pal or foe—is obtained for a meal with out no less than one dish of steaming fluffy rice. Actually, most frequently company will discover a number of rice dishes on the sofreh, the material that’s unfold on a desk, on the ground, or on the bottom exterior upon which meals are served. 

The chelow recipe detailed right here is not only a vital rice dish unto itself, but in addition the bottom of many different conventional Persian rice delicacies reminiscent of tahdig, the scrumptious, buttery, golden, crunchy, spherical layer shaped on the backside of the rice pot; polow, a category of fluffy rice dishes flavored with a variety of cooked meat, greens, dried fruits, and nuts; and tahchin, a class of cake-like rice dishes the place savory meats are encased in flavored rice with a crunchy outer layer.

Tahdig, it must be talked about, isn’t solely a fascinating byproduct of constructing chelow, but in addition an almost unavoidable one (technically, there are methods to keep away from producing tahdig, however I do not know of anybody who would keep away from tahdig on goal). Although chelow and tahdig in follow go hand-in-hand, this text and recipe will give attention to the strategies and finer factors of constructing chelow extra typically; I’ve written a separate article and recipe completely targeted on the art of tahdig together with a handful of standard tahdig variations; the recipes have a lot in frequent, although the 2 headnotes are totally totally different and the tahdig recipe goes into far more element on methods to additional excellent that coveted crispy layer of rice.

Selecting the Proper Rice

Utilizing a long-grain white rice is important for making chelow. Lengthy grain rice has the benefit of changing into tender whereas staying agency and separate when cooked correctly. Amongst long-grain rice varieties, one of the best varieties to make use of for chelow are these grown in Iran or basmati varieties grown in India or Pakistan. Each are usually aged for no less than one yr earlier than being despatched to the market. The growing old course of helps to dehydrate the rice, which in flip causes it to increase when cooked greater than another kind of long-grain rice. 

Because the rice grown in Iran may be very costly and intensely laborious to search out exterior of Iran, an equally good various is top of the range, aged, extra-long-grain basmati rice grown in India and Pakistan. The phrase basmati is derived from Hindi language which means aromatic. Good, aged, white basmati rice has a slight pale-yellow colour. Though virtually all grocery shops within the US carry no less than one model of Indian or Pakistani basmati rice, you will discover a a lot wider selection and sometimes higher costs in Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, and Center Japanese brick-and-mortar and on-line markets. The rice retains fairly nicely if saved in cool, darkish, and dry circumstances. 

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari


Additionally, you will discover basmati rice grown within the US in your native grocery shops. American-grown rice is often not aged, and due to this fact doesn’t increase as a lot as Iranian or basmati varieties from India or Pakistan. Take into account US basmati rice a final resort. Additionally, by no means use transformed rice (rice that’s partially cooked earlier than the husks are eliminated after which dried) to make chelow, as that par-cooking will trigger bother with the two-stage cooking method required for correct chelow.   

Relating to the kind of rice known as for on this recipe, not like many generally used culinary substances (flour, sugar, salt, and so forth.) which have been considerably standardized, you could discover totally different cooking conduct from bag to bag even from the identical model. As I used to be getting ready to jot down this text, I made a number of batches of chelow from a number of totally different basmati rice manufacturers whereas taking detailed notes about every batch. The cooking conduct of the seven rice manufacturers that I had used differed in yield and cooking time by as a lot as 15%. Subsequently, in case you are within the behavior of buying 10- or 20-pounds (5- or 10-kilograms) baggage of rice – which is what I do – you must take notes when making chelow or another rice dish from a brand new bag of rice.

Key Chelow Methods: Washing and Soaking the Rice

One of many secrets and techniques to creating fluffy Persian rice is to totally wash the rice earlier than cooking. Bagged rice, in addition to rice scooped out of bulk containers, is often lined with a wonderful starchy mud that collects throughout processing and transportation. Completely washing the rice earlier than cooking removes this floor powder. For those who don’t wash the rice, you find yourself successfully cooking the rice together with that powdery starch, leading to a texture that’s mushy and gooey. No matter the kind of rice, there are different advantages to washing your rice earlier than cooking. Washing rice helps take away mud, sand, and different undesirable overseas particles, significantly in case your rice is available in a standard burlap bag, which may influence the style of the cooked rice or could also be noticeable when consuming it. Washing additionally kicks off the hydration of the rice grains, which is basically step one of cooking. 

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari


Whereas washing advantages all long-grain rice varieties, you must be extra selective about which kinds of rice to soak and for the way lengthy. Historic data relationship again to the sixteenth century clearly point out that Iranian cooks would soak their rice for an prolonged time period—typically in a single day—in nicely salted water. I personally have vivid childhood recollections in Iran of pans of rice soaking in water with a big chunk of rock salt sitting within the kitchen in a single day in preparation for subsequent day’s rice cooking. Whereas such lengthy soaking practices are applicable for sure long-grain rice grown in Iran, Indian and Pakistani basmati rice, whose grains are a bit softer than Iranian rice, wants a a lot shorter soaking interval.

Soaking offers the rice an opportunity to soak up water, permitting for extra even cooking through the parboiling stage, in addition to extra elongated and fluffier grains through the steaming stage. Salting the soaking water, in the meantime, helps to taste the rice from inside.

Soaking gives a further profit, which is that it preserves a number of the rice’s fragile pure aromatics. Cooked Iranian and basmati rice has a scent much like that of pandan leaves, in each instances attributable to the aroma compound 2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline. Iranian and basmati rice have greater ranges of 2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline in comparison with different rice varieties, however the degree of 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline decreases throughout cooking. The longer the rice cooks, the much less of this aroma will stay when it is completed. By soaking the rice, we’re capable of get a jumpstart on hydrating the grains earlier than warmth is ever utilized, shortening the general cooking time and holding 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline ranges greater.

Important Gear for Chelow

Whereas chelow does not require a lot when it comes to specialised gear, there are some necessary particulars to notice concerning the gear you utilize:

  • The Colander: Most bizarre vegetable colanders usually are not applicable for straining rice, as rice grains will slip by means of the massive holes. Handheld fine-mesh strainers are additionally not applicable due to their small quantity. What is required is a big, free-standing small-hole colander. If you will purchase a brand new one, get the most important one that matches in your sink: The bigger the colander, the extra the parboiled rice can unfold out and the strain it’s going to placed on itself, risking breakage. (Be aware, although, that you’ll use a fine-mesh strainer when rinsing the uncooked rice, because the grains at that time are so skinny that they will even get caught within the holes of a small-hole colander.)
  • Pot: Though you can also make chelow in virtually any kind of pot, there are some things that you could be need to bear in mind. For the parboiling stage, the pot measurement is extra necessary than the kind of pot. You need a big sufficient pot to permit the rice grains to drift and transfer round freely by themselves whereas the water is boiling vigorously—that is at a minimal a six-quart pot for 3 cups of rice, or a four-quart pot for 2 cups of rice—in any other case the rice grains is not going to swell or elongate correctly. Usually, the identical pot that had been used for parboiling is used once more for the second steaming stage of cooking. Throughout the second cooking stage, no matter what kind of pot is used, a layer of crunchy rice known as tahdig, a Persian delicacy, is shaped on the backside of the pot. A well-seasoned cast-iron or glazed Dutch oven will make it simpler to scrape out the crunchy layer. A nonstick pot will assist you to get the tahdig out in a single piece.
  • Towel-Wrapped-Lid: Protecting the pot through the steaming stage with a towel-wrapped-lid is an historic Persian cookery method. It has been such an necessary method that there’s a phrase for the towel-wrapped-lid in Persian language. It’s known as damkoni (دمکنی). There are damkoni-fitted pot lid covers with elastic that slip over pot lids (a.okay.a. Persian rice bonnet) which you could buy on-line. They do the job, however they’re no higher than simply utilizing a clear, thick kitchen towel. Simply watch out to not let the towel dangle down the aspect or the pot, which might create a hearth hazard.

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