As I wrote recently, I fell in love with Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia by Greg & Lucy Malouf, the moment I saw it.
In this post, I want to share a most wonderful recipe from the book – tahcheen-e morgh (baked yoghurt rice with chicken).
During a talk I attended recently, Greg was asked to describe the one dish that summed up Persian cuisine for him. He answered:
“There is one dish that is the centre of the universe for Iranians and that is rice… the way they cook it with a crispy edge, it’s like suckling pig!”
Many questions later, he was asked about any particularly difficult cooking techniques:
“The rice! I really like making it… it’s really easy… but there are five minutes of sweating at the end to see if there’s a crust!”
Having taken that comment to heart, I was certainly a little nervous about how the dish would turn out, apprehensive about how disappointing it would be if I failed to get the fabled crunchy crust. To my delight, the crust was magnificent and the dish delicious. I can’t wait to make it again!
Baked yoghurt rice with chicken
For the marinade:
- 250 g thick natural yoghurt
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp saffron liquid (see notes)
- 1 tsp orange flower water (see notes)
- finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the dish:
- 500 g boneless free-range chicken breast and thighs, skin removed and cut into 2 cm cubes
- 400 g basmati rice
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
Even with the pan buttered liberally, it can be difficult to turn the rice cake out of the pan in one piece. Thanks to reader recommendations, we now add a circular sheet of baking parchment at the base of the pan, along with even more liberal amounts of butter.
The recipe for saffron liquid specifies 20 strands of saffron to 2 tablespoons of boiling water, instructing that they be lightly, briefly and carefully toasted in a dry pan over medium heat, ground in a mortar and infused in boiling water for at least 1 hour. I dislike the strong earthy taste that comes from too much saffron so I used approximately 10 strands in 3 tablespoons of boiling water and didn’t bother to toast them before infusing.
I didn’t have any orange-flower water (also known as orange blossom water) so used just 2 tiny drops of (the much stronger) natural orange extract that I had in stock. This worked well.
Beat all the marinade ingredients together in a shallow dish.
Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
Bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a roiling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre.
Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
Preheat the oven to 190 C and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish.
Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half of the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon it into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice over the bottom and up the sides of the dish.
Arrange the chicken on top of the rice, then spoon the rest of the rice to cover, and smooth the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake for 1.5 hours.
Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter.
Serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt and a selection of fresh herbs – tarragon, basil, chives and parsley would be lovely.
We didn’t have a suitably shallow ovenproof dish, so we used a deeper cast-iron casserole. Although we buttered very liberally, we were not able to turn the dome of baked rice and chicken out whole. In fact it wouldn’t come out at all! Instead, we had to serve it from the dish, ensuring that each plate received a generous piece of the crunchy crust.
We served it with thick natural yoghurt with parsley, coriander, dill and chives (the four herbs used in the kuku-ye sabzi (soft herbed omelette) recipe we had made recently, also from Saraban.
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Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia is published by Hardie Grant Books (RRP £30).
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!29 Comments to "Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh)"
Sounds delicious, can I come for dinner next time?
Wow – I'm definitely making this!
I've had my eye on this book for some time now and that dish looks delish! Have to go (nearly) the top of my list now.
Am definitely going to try it. Looks truly delicious. X
Iranians are the masters of rice. Full stop.
Well done on the dish, looks great. We have an Iranian rice dish probably once a week at a minimum.
This sounds so delicious. I love crispy rice bits.
This sounds really delicious – right up my street. May have to give it a try – thanks for sharing!
Well its a good article and its too interesting one….
Rice with a crust …. Yum yum yum…..
Looks delicious Kavey!
Stunning! Can't wait to make this 🙂
Oooh, I love Greg Malouf's books – I have Arabesque and borrowed Moorish from a neighbour, both great reading. This one looks even better! Thanks for the review and the recipe, Kavey!
I used a whole chicken skinned boned and cut into strips so had a mixture of white and dark meat both were very succulent the rice does encase the meat well when cooked through and if it had turned out fine when turned upside down on a plate it would have been quite impressive to look at with the golden bottom and wonderfully coloured rice. It didn't turn out well so served it in the dish it was cooked in. It did come way well when served just not enough to turn it out. So someone else on another site suggested lining with buttered paper and this may be the way forward.
The taste of the saffron and the orange zest was light and really nice and as said the colour was lovely.
The addition of the peppers garlic and spinach as a side dish was a good thing and worked well. both in colour and taste.
The dish also seemed a little dry and would have benefited from something like the yoghurt with herbs as a side too.
We have loads of rice left which will mix well with other things but this might have been because the rice did seem a little dry but it will make excellent fried rice for tomorrows lunch.
I would certainly make it again and would make a little less rice with it or more liquid I might well experiment and do it both ways and see what is the right thing to do.
The roasted peppers did go well with it and next time I would add tomatoes and something like butternut squash as well. If you prep them just as the rice and chicken go in the oven,then pop them in they cook in the oven at the same time just nicely.
I have tried to post a report of how wonderful this was and the way that baking parchment enabled it to be turned out into a lovely golden crispy cake but it keeps getting rejected.
This looks absolutely gorgeous. I love a light note of saffran. Have recently been given saffron sugar which I use for desert. Will try your receipe tomorrow evening!
I love Malouf's cooking (had an amazing meal in Melbourne at his restaurant) and this dish looks brilliant
That sounds wonderful. I love baked rice. Yum!
Well Kavey, this was wonderful and thanks to the tip about baking parchment mine came out beautifully. I only used 350g of rice and that seemed just the right amount. I baked mine in a Le Creuset casserole with a baking parchment cartouche and the lid on. Thanks so much for blogging this delicious recipe.
So happy that several people have made this since the post and have really liked the subtle flavours, moist chicken and crunchy rice…
I've bookmarked this for our Royal Wedding celebration Kavey. Thank very much.
I just had to try this recipe. I used a cast iron casserole dish with a circle of parchment at the bottom and a foil cartouche (no lid) on top. It turned out of the dish well and was visually stunning when turned out and when the layers were cut.
The flavour of the yogurt mix was delicate and spread right through the top layer of rice. There was all in all a lot of rice when the bottom layer was included. If I made it again I think I would use more chicken and possibly try the addition of some orange juice soaked sultanas and lightly chopped pistachios to the chicken layer to add sweetness, flavour and colour (possibly not authentic but I think it would work well).
I kept quite a lot of my ‘cake’ in the fridge until the next day . Once cold the layers were colourful and looked lovely cut into slices and served as a tasty addition to a salad. There are a variety of dressings/sauces which could be experimented with as an accompaniment – I love your suggestion of yogurt with herbs.
Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. I am looking forward to experimenting some more (I think you could make a good gluten-free orange ‘sponge’ cake using the yogurt mixture, rice and something to sweeten!). Now I can’t wait to see the book!
EM, so glad it turned out well. I think your additions sound like a great idea, authentic or not, and certainly pistachios and sultanas are widely used in Iran, so not beyond realms of good match at all!
Well, I am very impressed with this. I essentially stuck to the recipe exactly with the exception of halving the quantity. I used extra large eggs so used only one yolk and it worked beautifully.
In view of the comments about it sticking I buttered a circle of baking parchment about two inches larger than the round earthenware casserole and placed it on the bottom, also buttering the inside of the dish well. I put another buttered circle on the top and then sealed the dish with a triple layer of tinfoil before putting the lid on. Despite halving the quantity I stuck to the original cooking time.
The crispy rice mould turned out beautifully, it was about an inch and a half in depth and around eight inches in diameter, far too much for me to eat at one sitting so I cut it into three portions. I ate the first immediately with a side salad of orange segments and flat leaf parsley drizzled with some rosewater – absolutely gorgeous. A crispy golden topping, that succulent saucy chicken middle and the elusive aroma of orange and saffron permeating the kitchen.
In the interests of science I wrapped one of the remaining pieces in the foil I had used to seal the dish and put it in the fridge for two days, I then reheated it in the microwave on full power for four minutes and it was most successful. Not quite as crispy but all the flavour was there. The second piece I put in a freezer bag and froze for three weeks. That was zapped from frozen for six minutes and although the crispy bit was now rather chewy all the flavours were intact. Every single bit was eaten and I shall be repeating the experiment.
Thank you Kavey.
We liked this dish very much indeed, though I had a couple of minor reservations about the balance between the amount and seasoning of the rice, and the chicken. Like Kavey, we made it with chicken legs, and because we buy free range farm chickens, they were only JUST cooked enough. That was partly because we increased our quantity of chicken to 1 kg to serve 8 generously. We could have got away with 750 g, We had also increased the quantity of rice slightly from 400g to 500g and we didn't need to. I reckon that as part of a five course meal, Kavey's quantites would be enough for 6.
When we normally do rice based dishes, we allow an absolute maximum of 80 to 90 g per person. So if I'm right in thinking that the recipe will feed 6 people as part of a multi-course meal then there would only be as little as 75 g of chicken per person which isn't really very much. I feel that needs a little adjustment, certainly for me effete European taste buds. That's what we did when we tried the recipe, and even so there was barely enough chicken
Seasoning. We used the full amount of sea salt to cook the rice as in the recipe. However, as I knew perfectly well would happen, when the rice was rinsed, all the salt was washed out, and in fact we felt the rice did in fact slightly lack salt. Similarly for the chicken. Making this with 1 kg (or double the recipe) of chicken, we increased the quantity of all the marinade ingredients by 50%. That too was, we felt. under salted. I used the zest of 1½ oranges, and to be honest, felt that it dominated a bit too much. the saffron didn't come through enough on the other hand, we felt.
So to resume. The dish was excellent despite my minor reservations. Having read of Kavey's problems with turning it out, we decided to line the bottom of the large pan that we used with well buttered bakewell paper as Carol suggested. It turned out beautifully, impressing our guests no end.
For me the revelation was the yoghurt which we turned into a sort of raita with loads of herbs. 375 ml yoghurt, 3 tbs chopped wild applemint, 2 tbs chopped parsley and 1 tb each of chopped chives and tarragon. 1/2 ts of salt and 20 grinds of pepper. It was absolutely delicious and went very well indeed with the dish.
Are we going to make it again? You betcha. We both thought the herby yoghurt was a triumph as was the colourful mixed salad that Jacquie made. (Red and green lettuces -red feuille de chêne, green batavia, yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes). She made a completely different vinaigrette for it than our usual type, with olive oil and lemon. It went extremely well with it.
Kavey, thanks very much for posting that recipe. It will become a regular chez nous!
Thanks again, Kavey, and I got around to making this yesterday.
I couldn't find orange flower water anywhere, so used rose water instead, but the orange flavour and scent from the zest was quite strong, and I served it with green beans and peas with fresh orange fillets and juice.
Having read the comments of others, I reduced the quantity of rice from 400g t0 265g, to make four portions rather than six, and that worked fine.
I rather liked the delicate flavours, but OH would prefer something stronger next time, so I will experiment, as per the suggestions of Fiona and others.
Thank you also for your suggestion of yoghurt and herbs on the side. I did something similar – natural yoghurt and sour cream mixed with parsley and chives, which worked well, and I do think that the dish needed a sauce on the side.
Thanks also to FCQ for the baking parchment idea, which I followed to the letter, and the dish turned out perfectly when inverted. The other half is in the freezer for another day.
Definitely a keeper. Thanks very much Kavey.
Better late than never. I’m pleased to report that I finally got around to trying this recipe on Saturday.
I really enjoyed the dish, although it didn’t quite turn out as hoped. The crust – which was fabulous 😀 – did form around the sides but unfortunately not on the top/bottom of the rice.
I used parchment to help turn out as per other comments and this worked well. There was a great colour to the rice but not the same depth of crust on the top when turned out.
The flavour was lovely although the orange flower water was quite strong and sweet. This is either because I was too heavy handed (reduced all ingredients by a third and perhaps included too much of this) or because I added it late to the marinade so perhaps it did not mellow properly with the yoghurt and saffron.
I served it with smoky griddled aubergine and courgette topped with feta, mint and pine nuts, which went brilliantly with the rice dish, and a herbed yoghurt (mint, parsley and chives), which was lovely with everything. I also served flatbreads which were probably not needed as there was so much rice but nice dipped in the yoghurt or wrapped around the vegetables.
I had reduced the recipe by approx 1/3 which I thought would be sufficient for OH and I but it still seemed huge 😆 We ended up digging the remaining chicken out of the rice as it had such a lovely flavour and then I had the remaining rice for lunch the next day. I roasted some more courgettes, mixed the rice with more yoghurt and re-baked (all cooled and stored properly the previously evening for H+S) which created a bit more crust, then added the courgettes, more feta and pine nuts for the last 10 mins or so of baking and dolloped lots of herby yoghurt over the top. This was beautiful and I also found that the orange water flavour had mellowed overnight – giving substance to my second theory on why it was so strong previously.
All in all, I was really impressed with the dish and will definitely make again but might experiment with an additional flavour or texture. I wouldn’t want to add too much as it is obviously supposed to be a delicate dish but perhaps some mint in the marinade, or pine nuts/almonds through the rice would enhance without losing the original essence of the dish?
Oh I love your ideas to add nuts into the rice, or a little mint into the marinade! Sounds really nice.
I think you are right that orange blossom is a strong flavour, so only a couple of drops are necessary, perhaps a little too much might account for the sweetness. For me, that was balanced by the gentle sourness from the yoghurt and that earthy saffron flavour.
My favourite aspects were the tenderness of the yoghurt-marinated meat and the crunchy rice, but I think one could experiment with bolder flavours – someone mentioned trying tandoori flavours, as that marinade is a yoghurt based one, and I think that would be a very interesting idea!
We have made this dish a number of times and we and all our friends just LOVE it!
We have found a spring-form cake tin works really well for turning the finished cake out of. Sometimes we use lamb or beef instead of chicken. And there is never any left over, no matter how big the cake is. ….
I adore rice dishes and will try this one tonight.