One would think that a chef's blog would at least occasionally deal with food.....
Phone call……Can you do Persian food?
Does the Pope shit in the woods?
A couple of years ago we got just this call: “Should we bring down basmati rice from Los Gatos, or can you do it? It is very important…..The success of the rice portends the success of the marriage…..” The wedding was for a hundred people at the Stonehouse at Garrapata Beach……where the crazy anti-Semitic owner can cancel a party on a week’s notice….and has: three times!! We hoped and prayed her anti-Semitism did not extend to Persian Jews……
No problem. I did some research at a completely revolting Persian restaurant out in the Avenues in The City, and a quiet, decent little one in Mountain View. No problem with the rice…..how hard can it be?
Come the time, the Persians take over the Stonehouse…..and we are summoned: Mike and Ollie schlepp down the coast on the Thursday night before the Saturday wedding. Grandma is the Queen of Basmati, and wants to go over the recipe with us. Even though we interrupt the first family gathering (the Persians are marrying into a North Carolina hang-gliding family) all family bonding stops immediately to discuss the rice. Grannie speaks not a word of English, so everyone translates at once. After an hour or so of repeating the recipe back through the translators, Grannie is still not satisfied. She insists of coming out to the kitchen the next day to show us in person.
Friday morning, Grannie arrives with one of the aunts. We spend the next six hours making and re-making the rice, and discussing all possible problems and permutations. We still are not good at perfecting the crusty bottom of the rice pot….but no worries, the rice itself is acceptable. Grannie leaves us with the recipe, and a bag of smuggled basmati from Iran. We bought two big pots for cooking, and two new china hats for straining.
How hard could it be? See below the line……
Basmati Rice—AMF Style
THIS IS AN EASY RECIPE…..DON’T WORRY!
Basmati rice Sunflower seeds
Zest of oranges Pumpkin seeds
Orange juice Currants
Sugar Bermuda onion
Scant Cardamom seeds, Fennel seeds, Cumin seeds, Black Pepper, Lavender, Saffron, Cayenne
Good cheap saffron is available from Nature’s Wild Rice in Bemidji, Minnesota…..or us……
This is an adaptation of the traditional Persian recipe. (If you want to be authentic for some reason, don’t add cumin, black pepper, nuts or fruit. Put a bag over your head, sign away all your legal rights to money, property and children and take all your instructions from men…..except regarding rice).
Buy the best basmati rice you can find. Lundberg has a decent organic one available at Whole Foods…….The best is, of course, from Persian/Iranian markets……
We use one ounce (volume) of rice per person, to be served with 6-8 other dishes, less dishes, more rice. It keeps well for several days for leftovers, so you can over-prepare and not worry….kids love this rice. Also, final volume depends on how long you cook it.
The neurotic goal with basmati rice is for each individual grain to be perfect and whole…..not sticky in any way. The first step is to rinse the loose starch from the rice. Put the rice in a boté and fill with water. We are completely anal. We fill small botés (Rubbermaid 2 or 4qt containers) with water, and then pour the water carefully over the rice (letting the tap run directly onto the rice can bruise it, releasing more starch). You will be amazed how much starch is loose in expensive rice. Drain the top water off the rice boté and refill. Do this as many times as seems sane, but at least 6-8 times. The water should run clear. (If you live in CalAm water country, there is so much bleach in the water that you might get in the habit of drawing water in a large container and letting the chlorine gas off before you use it). When you are reasonably happy, refill the rice boté with water and add a half cup of salt (Hain’s sea salt, naturally). Let this sit for half an hour or so. Then rinse the rice a few more times.
Meanwhile boil a large pot of good water…….at least 6 times the volume of rice. We add a couple of good bay leaves from Laurie Coke, a fat pinch of good saffron, a pinch of fennel seed and a pinch of lavender flowers. Add the rice. Stand there and fret. Don’t leave for a minute, or it will overcook. As the foam rises (this is the starch you missed), skim it off. Gently stir from time to time with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, prepare a big pot of cold water in the sink, and several botés of cold water.
After five minutes or so, start checking the doneness of the rice grains. (Timing depends on the rice/water volume, size and construction of the pot, your stove firepower, etc). When the rice is just past al dente, pull it from the heat, and gently pour it through a strainer at the sink. If you use a china hat strainer, you can plunge the china hat into your water bath to stop the cooking. Gently pour the botés of cold water over and through the rice. When the rice is cold, lift it from the cold water bath and let drain thoroughly.
Meanwhile, put 4z white sugar in an omelette pan and put over medium fire. Let it melt, and just as it starts to darken, turn down the heat, and add 4-8z OJ……(we strain the OJ through a super fine strainer to take out the chunks). Add a fat pinch of good saffron and the orange zest and a cayenne or dry serrano pepper. Let it simmer until is just starts to thicken, and the caramel is dissolved from the bottom of the pan. Put the currants in a bowl. Toss the orange sauce over the currants. Reserve.
Take your cumin seeds and black pepper and a pinch of lavender (we recommend Morton and Basset coarse ground pepper…..Whole Paycheck again…..or grind your own telecherry peppercorns…get lavender from the yard, or from in front of mid-Valley Safeway or Bernardus Lodge) and put in a dry Teflon pan or quesadilla iron and gently toast. As soon as they start of gas-off, remove them from heat. Put in a mortar and crush. Reserve.
Take a few ounces (we use about the same total volume of nuts to dry rice….but we like nuts…….well, we are nuts….) of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and a couple cardamom seeds and gently toast in neutral oil. (We use flaxseed oil, because of the omega fatty acids…..Canola oil is ok……or neutral olive oi). When the pumpkin seeds start to pop, pull from the heat.
Back to the rice. Add a fat pinch of good saffron and toss. Use a long-tined roasting fork, not a spoon or spatula….they can crush the grains. When the orange peel/juice mixture is cool, toss. When the nuts are cool, toss.
Cut the red onion into brunoise (tiny dice) and toss. Sprinkle with ground spices to taste. Toss. Adjust seasoning.
We serve this dish at room temperature…..the Iranians take an oiled heavy casserole dish, line it with flatbread (flour tortillas this side of Teheran) and gently steam the rice back to eating temperature. The kids fight over the crusted tortilla bottom…..it has a special name that I forget…….post traumatic stress disorder
So….you can do it!........or call us…….this dish represents about $1 per person……
For good saffron, relatively cheap call my favorite Minnesotans at Nature’s Wild Rice http://www.naturesrice.com/
© 2000 Michael Jones/A Moveable Feast
The day of the wedding in Big Sur, we set up our normal catering kitchen in the garage of the Stonehouse. We had two big pots full of boiling water to deal with the rice. Grannie’s recipe called for 150 grams of dry rice per person. This came to ten kilos for the 70 or so guests. Despite my engineering background, I never questioned this figure. Grannie should know, right? Upon these feet of clay we built our wedding, and their marriage.
I dumped in the well rinsed rice in the two giant pots, and concentrated on skimming like Grannie. As the moment of perfect doneness approached the rice expanded alarmingly. I looked at my two little china hats (probably six quarts each) and realized that I was screwed. We had no sink, just a garden hose to cool the rice. As a boy raised in Anaheim, a block from Disneyland, all I could think of was Mickey as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We dumped a fraction of the rice into the china hats to cool, but the mass kept growing and growing, and looking gummier and gummier. What to do?
I looked around in a panic, and remembered drying salad in tablecloths in Switzerland, before the invention of salad spinners and pre-washed lettuce. I had three waiters and the Anti-Semite grab corners of a big tablecloth and we dumped in a pot of boiling rice and hosed it down. Aaaacckk! In Switzerland, we had LINEN tablecloths. California is the land of Missing Linen (the last bastion of The Mob now that the Indians got the gambling) and everything is 60-40 Visa polyester: it doesn’t drain! Now we had a couple of hundred POUNDS of steaming rice pudding, trapped in the sail-like sheet of polyester….the waiters and the Anti-Semite staggering under the load. We salvaged a few pathetic china hats of gruel, each one stickier than the rest. The glutinous mass that remained…..and the OTHER pot, went into Garrapata Creek with the tablecloth…..where it washed out to sea and probably killed a whale.
On the buffet line, we tried to save the best stuff for the real Iranians…..Sure enough, Uncle Nedj….the guy the recipe was made for, scooped up about half all by himself. Like Cubans, and Puerto Ricans, Iranians cover the plate in rice first, then add the protein on top. (When cooking for non-Persians and non-Cubans use 25 grams per person, not 150!).
The corker was one of the hang-gliders towards the end of the line, casting a look at the gruel, cried out: “Wow!! Sticky rice!! That’s my favorite, Dude!” Thanks for the endorsement, bud. Tell Grannie.
Still waiting to get paid for that one………But hey, we got a recipe!!