[pullquote]Summary: Saffron Rice Cake or Tah-cheen is a fancy dish in Iranian cuisine. What’s make it fancy? Saffron.[/pullquote]
On the days that I feel extra fancy to serve my family a classic dish, I think of Saffron Rice Cake or Tahcheen – a mixture of rice and chicken smeared with saffron-rich yogurt sauce.
SRC or Tahcheen is relatively a simple dish with minimal ingredients to make. However, there is one particular ingredient that makes it fanciful without the possibility of substitution: saffron. It is by far the most expensive spice in the world making it a deluxe commodity.
While many recipes use saffron in teaspoon measurements for the purpose of adding more color or extra aroma to a dish, Tahcheen recipe measures required saffron in cup scale; and the more, the fancier. Need to cut the time in half to make this fabulous dish? Use your leftover rotisserie chicken and no one will ever notice. Top the cake with lightly sautéed almond slivers as well as cranberries (I used Barberries instead) and voila! Your majestic Saffron Rice cake will steal the scene.
Prep time: 30 min.
Cooking time: 60 min.
Ready in: 1 hr 30 min.
Saffron Rice Cake
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 medium yellow onion
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 small cinnamon stick (optional)
A pinch of salt and pepper
2 ½ cups Plain yogurt, divided
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons brewed saffron
1 large egg
4 tablespoons cooking oil
½ teaspoon salt and pepper (to be used per taste)
2 cups Basmati rice, washed and rinsed
1 tablespoon salt
A pinch of turmeric powder (optional)
1/8 cup canola oil
1- Place the chicken, onion, cinnamon stick (if using any) in a stockpot or Dutch oven. Add water till it covers the chicken. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Then turn down the heat and add turmeric powder, salt and pepper. Allow to cook for 20-30 minutes. Adding aromatic vegetables such as celery and carrots not only will nicely take care of chicken odor but make great for a nutritious chicken stock for later use in soups such as Barley soup .
2- Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt marinade. In a mixing bowl, beat together 2 cups of plain yogurt with ¼ cups brewed saffron, cooking oil (I used canola oil but sesame oil works great too), salt and pepper with a fork. The marinade texture resembles cake batter. If using Greek yogurt, the marinade texture will be thicker. In that case, slightly thin it out by adding some reserved chicken broth. The marinade should spread evenly in between rice layers. Set the marinade aside to be used later with shredded chicken.
3- In another mixing bowl, mix the ½ cup reserved yogurt, egg, and 2 tablespoons of brewed saffron. Set aside.
4- While the chicken is cooking, prepare the Basmati rice. Wash the rice under lukewarm water. Drain. Repeat rinse and drain (4-5 times) until the water runs clear. This will help to wash away the excess starch. Add 2.5 quarts (10 cups) of water to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir briefly to dissolve salt. Bring to a boil. Optional: adding ½ teaspoon turmeric to the rice will intensify the color. In 10-15 minutes, the rice starts to float on the surface of the boiling water. Give it a “grain check”. Test a few rice grains between your fingers. It should be soft to the touch on the outside but sturdy inside. If the rice boils longer, it will lose shape and become mushy. Remove from heat and drain it into a colander. Rinsing it quickly with some cold water gives rice a shock and helps the grains to maintain their shape.
5- When the chicken is no longer pink inside, transfer them to a plate to cool off. Then shred the chicken and add to the yogurt and saffron mixture.
6- Add about ½ – ¾ cup of cooked basmati rice to the yogurt and egg mixture.
7- In a 5-quart non-stick pot, heat 1/8 cup canola oil over medium heat. Add the rice with yogurt and egg mixture to the pot. As the mixture contains egg, it is important to even out the rice mixture with the back of a spoon as soon as it is added to the pot. This way there won’t be any “omelet” pieces standing out.
8- Next step, add a thin layer of rice followed by a layer of marinated chicken. It is better to leave the edges clear of the marinade since the yogurt will burn too quickly, lending a burnt smell to the rice cake. Top with a layer of rice. Continue with another layer of marinated chicken, and then rice until none is left.
9- If there is any yogurt marinade left in the mixing bowl, thin it out with some brewed saffron for deeper saffron aroma and color. For a richer taste, some melted butter can be added and drizzled over the last layer of rice.
10- Cover the lid and allow the rice to steam over medium high heat for approximately 5-10 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium-low. Wrap the lid in a kitchen tablecloth or two sheets of paper towel to absorb the dripping sweat. When the sides of the rice start to brown and there is no bubbling yogurt sauce, the Saffron Rice Cake is done and ready to be served. It will take approximately 45 minutes.
Tah-cheen is best served when turned upside down into the serving dish. That in itself requires a lot of practice. The key is to generously cover the bottom of the pot with oil and let the rice cook slowly over medium heat. As a rule of thumb, I also give the pot a quick cold bath after removing from the heat. Filling a shallow bowl with cold water, I only dip about 2 inches of the pot in the water and remove quickly. This technique helps the bottom portion of the cake to be released easily. Now it is time to turn the cake upside down and transfer it to the serving plate. Noosh-e jān!