Fierce Foodie: Tahchin, King of Dishes
a blogumn by Roya Hamadani
In my family there is one food that is kind of like the king of dishes. We make it for big deal occasions, request it for birthdays and reunions, sing songs and make up stories about it. One family legend tells of how a young girl once ate half a pan of it alone…
Tahchin, pronounced “tah-cheen,” is a simple baked chicken and rice dish, yet it epitomizes everything I love about Persian cooking: the subtle aroma of saffron, the moist richness of yogurt, and the way basic ingredients are transformed into a special delight. The tahchin-making process takes time, and therefore it is a dish rarely found in restaurants. It begins by sautéing onions and chicken with a little turmeric, and then letting this marinate overnight in yogurt and saffron. The next day the yogurt
mixture is combined with half boiled rice and put into a deep dish to bake. After a few hours the heavenly golden crust forms, at which time the cook removes the tahchin from the oven. Now comes the complicated part, removing the tahchin from the glass dish to be served as one unbroken cake. My mother does this by placing a platter over top of the tahchin, gripping the dishes together with pot holders, and then inverting the whole assembly onto her head like some kind of hot, heavy hat. Then she brings it down to the table oh so carefully. Yes, tahchin is a magical and dangerous dish!
The yogurt keeps the chicken and rice incredibly moist while providing the saffron with a vehicle to infuse the entire dish. The crisp buttery crust contrasts with the soft interior. If there is a more perfect food than this, I have not tasted it. In the recipe I have included as much information as I can to make your tahchin-making adventure a success, should you be brave enough to try this at home!
Day One: Sauté 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast with 1 sliced onion and 1 tsp turmeric. Do not brown the chicken. Let it remain pink in the middle and the onions translucent. Meanwhile, put 5 saffron threads in ¼ cup hot water so that the water becomes infused with the spice. Remove the chicken and onions from the pan and put it into a glass bowl. Mix in a 32 ounce container of plain yogurt. Mix in the saffron threads and water. Refrigerate covered overnight.
Day Two: Boil 3 cups of rice until half-cooked. You should still feel the hardness in the rice when you bite down on a grain. Strain the rice and set aside. Take a clear glass baking dish at least 3 inches deep and thoroughly coat it with melted butter. The bottom of the dish should be swimming in it. Add a tbsp of oil and swirl that in too!
Mix the strained rice with the yogurt and chicken mixture. Add 2 tsp salt. Take one cup of the mixture without any chicken in it and mix one egg yolk into it. Then press this egg-rice mixture into the pan bottom and sides. The egg will make the tahchin develop a nice crust.
Put the rest of the mixture in the dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 2 hours at 325 F. You will smell the saffron when it’s done, and there should be a nice golden brown crust visible. That’s why you always make tahchin in a clear glass dish.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for a minute. Run a knife around the edges. Once it has shrunk from the sides a bit, put the serving platter over the dish. Needless to say, it should cover the whole surface. Grip the dish and platter together with oven mitts and then invert them. I find the hat trick the easiest way – one big swoop onto my head and then carefully bringing it down to the table. Tap on the bottom of the dish to convince the tahchin to come out. Now take a bow, as the making of a good tahchin is no small feat!!