Serves 4 to 6
Persian-ish Rice with Tahdig
2 cups (390 grams) basmati rice
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
Place rice in a bowl and rinse with cold water. Swirl vigorously with your fingers to release the starch, and change the water at least five times, until it runs clear. Once the water runs clear, let rice soak for 30 minutes.
Fill a large stockpot with 4 quarts of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
Once the water comes to a boil, salt it heavily. The precise amount will vary depending on what kind of salt you’re using, but it’s about 6 tablespoons fine sea salt or a generous 1⁄2 cup kosher salt. The water should taste saltier than the saltiest seawater you’ve ever tasted. This is your big chance to get the rice seasoned from within, and it’s only going to spend a few minutes in the salted water, so don’t panic about oversalting your food. Drain the rice, then add it to the pot and stir.
Set a fine-mesh sieve or colander in the sink. Cook rice, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain into the sieve, then rinse with cold water to keep rice from cooking further. Drain rice well and place in a large bowl.
Remove 1 heaping cup of the rice to a small bowl and combine it with the yogurt.
Set a very well seasoned 10-inch cast iron pan or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and the oil. When butter melts, add rice-yogurt mixture and spread it out into a thin, even layer with a heatproof spatula.
Pile remaining rice into the pan, mounding it gently toward the center. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, gently dig 6 holes into the rice down to the bottom of the pot, which will be barely sizzling. Dig 5 of the holes about 2 inches from the sides of the pan, and put one in the center. (The holes will allow steam to escape from the bottommost layer of rice and allow a crisp crust to form.) There should be enough oil in the pan that you can see it bubbling up the sides; add a little more oil along the edges of the rice if needed to see these bubbles.
Continue cooking rice over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, or until evenly browned along the edges, rotating the pan a half turn after 4 minutes to ensure even browning. Wrap a lid with a kitchen towel and cover pan. Turn the heat as low as it will go and continue cooking another 45 minutes, rotating the pan a quarter turn every 10 to 12 minutes. The rice is done when it’s cooked completely through.
To unmold the rice, carefully run an offset spatula or butter knife along the edges of the pan to ensure that no part of the crust is sticking. Tip out any excess fat at the bottom of the pan into a bowl, gather your courage, and then carefully flip it onto a platter or cutting board. Serve immediately.
And if for any reason your rice doesn’t slip out in one piece, do what every Persian grandmother since the beginning of time has done: scoop out the rice, chip out the tahdig in pieces with a spoon or metal spatula, and pretend you meant to do it this way. No one will be the wiser.