Persian rice cooked the easy way
Kateh was a regular feature in my early childhood. My mum would cook it for any ailment I had and serve it with yoghurt (maast). Not sure how it was meant to help. However, given its low maintenance method of cooking and the comforting nature, I can see why my mother would whip it up for me.
Before I launch into the finer details of cooking Kateh, the type of rice you require for Persian dishes is very important. It must be long grain basmati white rice, which you can buy from most local supermarkets and Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops ranging from 500 gram to 10 kilogram bags.
Kateh is a great introduction to mastering the art of cooking rice like Iranians. Once you have this skill under your belt, learning the more complicated technique (Chelow) will be less daunting. The difference between the two ways of cooking rice is essentially that, for Kateh, you boil and steam it in your saucepan by letting the water evaporate, whereas Chelow requires you to parboil the rice, drain the water and then steam. Also, timing of the draining of the rice prior to steaming is key for Chelow.
The more forgiving timing and low maintenance method for Kateh results in a stickier rice compared to the delicate separated fluffy grains Chelow produces. The bonus of the simple way of cooking Persian rice is that you can still get the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot – ‘Tahdig’ which is cherished by Iranians. If you have clicked onto this site searching for tahdig then you already know about this delightful creation unique to Iranians. If you are new to the concept then let me explain.
Tahdig translated into English means ‘bottom of the pot.’ Iranians cook their rice for longer than most cultures in order to create a crispy layer of rice, which is everyone’s favourite part of the meal. A bit like the potatoes in your Sunday Roast. It’s always the first dish to disappear at our dinner parties with the crispy texture perfectly complementing the softer textures of many of our dishes (the rice, stews and kababs). There is a disclaimer to Kateh tahdig and that is it is not as superior as the tahdig created by the Chelow method. It comes out paler but it is still crunchy. If you are in this for the long game, then eventually you will be cooking rice and creating tahdig like a Persian Maman (or Baba) with golden tahdig made with potatoes, bread or anything else you fancy experimenting with. For now, my advice is to get Kateh under your belt.
The best way to master cooking rice the Persian way is to have a trusted cup measurement and understand the portions it yields. I use the measuring cup pictured below (standard UK measuring cup – 250 ml), which holds approximately 200 grams of rice.
Each cup holds a generous 2 portions of rice. I use 2 cups (400 grams of rice) which feeds 4 of us comfortably with leftovers on occasion. I cook this in a standard UK saucepan with a glass lid 20 cm diameter, with a 2.5 litre capacity. The reason I refer to mastering cup measurements is because of the corresponding water measurement. For every cup of rice, you add 1 cup of water plus 1/2 cup for every cup of rice.
To unscramble the brain I set out a table below with the rice to water ratio and the amount of salt and oil you will also require.
|Serves||Cups of Rice||Cups of Water||Oil/Butter||Salt|
|2||1||1.5||1 Tbsp||0.5 - 1 tsp|
|4||2||3||2 Tbsp||1 - 2 tsp|
|8||4||6||4 Tbsp||2 - 4 tsp|
As a further note, in order to master the art of Persian rice you have to learn how your stove works, whether it is a ceramic, induction or gas hob.
The lowest setting on ceramic, induction and other solid plate type cookers tend to produce a lower temperature than the equivalent on a gas hob, therefore to go to the lowest heat may result in your rice not being cooked within the specified time below. Don’t worry – just leave it on for longer and the next time go up a gauge and a further one if needed until you master the right temp and time for your Kateh.
Kateh isn’t a dish you would traditionally serve at an Iranian party (mehmooni) and is more of a mid week or chilled family weekend rice accompaniment dish. For serving suggestions, I recommend having it with Kabab Tabei, Asian style dishes or just fried eggs, something green (for good measure) and Torshi.
- 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
- 3 cups water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp butter / ghee / vegetable oil
- Gently wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Place in a bowl and fill with cold water to 2 inches above the rice. Let the rice soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
- Drain and then put the rice in a saucepan. Add water and salt (for the amount of rice set out above, I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
- Put the saucepan on a high heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat to medium and add the butter/ghee/oil and stir gently to mix.
- Once you start to see holes in the rice as the water is evaporating, take the temperature down to the lowest setting. Take a clean tea towel and wrap the lid of the saucepan, making sure it is not a fire hazard. Place the lid on the saucepan. The tea towel will help the steaming process and soak up the water, preventing it from falling back into the rice and making it mushy. Leave the rice cooking for no less than 30 mins. The longer you leave it, the better the tahdig.
- Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (30 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and take a plate, which is bigger than your saucepan, and place it over the top of the saucepan. Flip the saucepan, while holding the plate, and your rice should come out as a nice looking rice cake in the shape of your pan with crispy tahdig encasing it.
- Serve with your choice of stew, curry or kababs.
- Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work the first time you do it. It took me a few attempts before I got it! Good luck.