Tuesday, July 26, 2011

saffron rice with a crispy potato crust.

the weekend started out innocently enough. friday night we were invited to our friend sogand's place for dinner. little did i know, however, that during that dinner i would become a rice and potato convert.

it's true that i've been living in sausage and potato land for three years. and while i'm never going to be sold on the former, the possibilities of the latter's deliciousness finally dawned on me during this dinner, as i dug into sogand's exquisite side dish of saffron rice with a crispy potato crust (known as tahdig). essentially, partially cooked rice is placed on top of a layer of potatoes sizzling in butter. as the potatoes brown, the rice steams. at the end, you mix in some dissolved safran to give the fluffy light rice a delicate flavor - and the potatoes, oh man, the potatoes. you've never tasted such flavorful, crispy, brown potatoes before.

needless to say, i became determined to replicate this heavenly dish over the weekend. the problem: saffron is not only hard to come by here, but also... what's the word for the far opposite of a bargain? filled with hope, i asked sogand where she got her saffron from. the answer: iran. i didn't know if i'd have time to pop on over there any time soon, so i turned to other options. my boyfriend and i were heading to the city of hanover the next day, and so it became clear that while the stated aim of the trip was to explore the city and enjoy ourselves, the reeeeal mission was to find saffron.

of course, hanover was beautiful and charming. (can't resist showing two pictures of the town hall and surrounding park).

but after wandering around and enjoying lunch and a stroll in the park (check out those lilly pads!), my personal highlight of the trip came an hour before we headed back to bremen, when i found a cheap supermarket that was selling little containers of the coveted spice for 2,50 euro. we headed back saturday evening, and sunday night yours truly whipped up a dish with potatoes for the first time in three years.

(note: though i wasn't able to snag a photo of the potato crust before we devoured it, they turned out very nice and crispy in the center while still slightly too pale around the edges. next time i'll leave them over the heat for even a bit longer so that the whole crust is as delicious as the center).

saffron rice with tahdig potato crust

2 cups basmati rice

2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon saffron in ¼ cup water

bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. add rice and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. stir occasionally. when it’s nearly done, about 10 minutes later, drain it.

while the rice is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a wide skillet or non-stick pan. arrange the potatoes on top of the olive oil to cover the pan. pour the cooked rice over the potatoes and turn the heat to as low a heat as possible.

cook for at least 1 ½ hours, or until the potatoes are crispy. you can use a spatula to peek underneath. keep the dish on minimum heat for another half hour after that.

during the last few minutes of cooking, remove two cups of the rice and place in a small bowl. take the teaspoon of saffron dissolved in ¼ cup water and add to the bowl. stir until rice is well saturated (and a beautiful yellow color!).

remove skillet from heat and reintegrate saffron rice back in, making sure not to disturb the potato floor.

serve by cutting the potato-rice cake into pieces, making sure each piece has both some crispy potatoes and rice. alternatively, you can scoop all of the rice out of the pan and into a bowl, and serve the potato on top.