Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tah-chin ba morgh

     Persian Baked Saffron Yogurt Basmati Rice Cake with Chicken!
     Tah-chin is a classic Iranian entrée and it is a unique method of cooking Basmati Rice.  The yogurt and spice flavored rice can be cooked plain and the Persian Farci name would be Tah-chin (or Tahchin).  Tah-chin is the basis for any else that is added to the recipe.  Vegetables, fish, beef, chicken or lamb are popular additions for Tah-chin.  When a featured ingredient is added, the extra item is mentioned in the recipe title after the word Tah-chin.  For example, today's Tah-chin recipe features chicken, so chicken must be mention in the entrée title.  The basic Iranian translation for Persian Style Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice Cake With Chicken is Tah-chin ba morgh.
     The food name Tah-chin ba morgh actually is a phonetic English translation of Farci language and as one can see, using a phonetic Farci language title sure does require fewer words than a straight English descriptive name for this recipe.  The name Tah-chin ba morgh is easy to pronounce and it does look good on a written menu.
     There are several languages in Iran that include variations of Farci and Arabic dialects, so the exact spelling of Tah-chin ba morgh does vary from one local dialect to the next, but this phonetic English spelling sounds similar in all local languages.  The reason why is because this recipe actually dates back to the days of ancient Persia.  The oldest Tah-chin recipes are well over 2,000 years old and the perfected recipe really has not changed much since then.  Tah-chin is ancient culinary perfection at its best!
     In order for the Tah-chin ba morgh to turn out as it should be, traditional Persian cooking techniques must be used with no shortcuts.  The Basmati Rice must be soaked in water for nearly 2 hours and the rice must be rinsed up to 7 times during this process.  This technique results in Basmati Rice grains that are long, light and fluffy after boiling.    
     The seasoning and spices for Tah-chin are simple.  Minced garlic, sliced onion, salt, black pepper, turmeric and saffron is all it takes to create a traditional flavor.  Saffron Water is preferred by many Iranian chefs for yogurt marinade, but regular Saffron Threads can be used too.  Saffron Water is usually made with Safflower Saffron, which has a milder flavor than Crocus sativa Saffron.  Crocus sativa Saffron is quite expensive, so low price Safflower Saffron is used more often in recipes, but more of the weaker Saffron will be needed.  A combination of Concentrated Safflower Saffron Water (or Safflower Saffron) and a small pinch of Crocus sativa Saffron yields a good flavor and yellow color.  The turmeric enhances the Saffron flavor and color too.
     The saffron yogurt marinade is divided into 2 separate portions.  One portion of the yogurt marinade is used for the cooked chicken and onions.  Egg yolks are added to the second portion of yogurt marinade to make a custard base, which will be mixed with the Basmati Rice.  The yogurt custard rice mixture lines the cast iron baking pan and the marinated chicken an onions are placed in the center, then the chicken is sealed in with the remaining yogurt rice custard mixture.
    The two hour baking time may seem very long, but the lengthy time in the oven is what gives the Tah-chin its golden brown crust.  The outside of the baked rice cake should be crusty and caramelized after baking.  The yogurt marinade mixture keeps the rice moist inside.
     In French culinary language, the words "Maillard Reaction" describe how an item that is cooked undisturbed till browned will easily release itself from a pan.  A certain amount of undisturbed browning is required for Tah-chin, so it does not stick to the pan.  If on a first attempt at making Tah-chin part of the rice mixture sticks to the pan when the Tah-chin is popped out of the baking pan, then all is not lost.  The broken Tah-chin can be salvaged by packing it back together on a serving plate.  

     Seasoning a Cast Iron Baking Mold or Cast Iron Skillet:
     Using a baking pan or deep skillet that has a modern non-stick surface is an option, but most of these kinds of pans are made with thin gauge metal.  Thin gauge metal does not distribute heat evenly, especially when an item is baked for a long time.  If the non-stick pan is made with thick metal, then it can be used to make tah-chin.    
     Tah-chin is usually baked in a seasoned cast iron baking pan or a seasoned deep cast iron skillet.  Deep cast iron skillets are farely easy to find in a variety of sizes.  An 8" wide cast iron skillet will yield a Tah-chin that is big enough for two portion.
     The cast iron skillet must be thoroughly seasoned, so the surface is like a modern non-stick surface pan.  Seasoning a cast iron skillet is as easy as placing about 1 cup of salt in the pan with about 1/2 cup of vegetable oil.  The pan is placed over medium heat and the oil salt mixture is heated to the smoking point.  The hot oil and salt must be gently shaken in the cast iron pan, so the extra hot oil hardens on the entire cooking surface inside the pan.
     After the inside of the cast iron pan looks like it is a shiny smooth black surface, then the pan is thoroughly seasoned.  The cast iron pan can now be cooled, then the oil and salt can be discarded.  From this point on, the cast iron pan should only be wiped clean and sterilized with direct heat.  Soaking the pan with plain water is okay, if burnt food is stuck to the pan.  Water will not harm the seasoned surface.  Soap should not be used to clean a seasoned cast iron pan.  Using soap and water will remove the seasoned non-stick surface.        
     Tah-chin ba morgh:
     This recipe yields 1 large Tah-Chin that is enough for 3 or 4 portions!
     Step 1:  Place 2 cups of Basmati Rice in a container.
     Cover the rice with cold water.  
     Drain the water off of the rice once every 15 to 20 minutes and cover the rice with more fresh cold water.  (The rinsing step should be done 7 times during the soaking period.)
     Soak the rice for a total of 2 hours.
     Step 2:  *While the Basmati Rice Soaks, the yogurt marinade and chicken can be prepared.
     Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of clarified unsalted butter (ghee).
     Add 1 1/3 cups of thin julienne sliced onion.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Sauté till the onions are clear in color.
     Step 3:  Add 8 ounces of thin sliced chicken breast.  (About 3/16" thick)
     Sauté and stir till the chicken is fully cooked.  Try not to brown the ingredients.
     Step 4:  Add 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice.
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Set the pan aside and let chicken and onions cool to room temperature.  Do not drain off the excess butter!
     Step 5:  Place 1 1/4 cups of plain Greek style goat milk yogurt in a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 egg yolks.  (large eggs)
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 2 pinches of black pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.
     Add 2 teaspoons of Safflower Saffron Water (or 1 1/2 tablespoons of Safflower Saffron).
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 6:  Place 1/4 of the yogurt sauce in a container.
     *Leave the rest of the yogurt sauce in the large mixing bowl and keep it chilled in a refrigerator.  The remaining yogurt sauce in the mixing bowl will be used for the rice later in the recipe.
     Add the chicken, garlic, onion and butter mixture to the small portion of yogurt sauce in the container.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Marinate the chicken in a refrigerator for at least one hour.
     Step 7:  *The Basmati Rice should be finished soaking by this time.
     Use a fine mesh strainer to drain the water off of the soaked Basmati Rice.
     Rinse the rice one last time under cold running water.
     Step 8:  Place 4 cups of water in a wide sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Bring the water to a gentle boil.
     Add the soaked Basmati Rice.
     Boil the rice till it just starts to become tender.  (Try not to cook the rice till it is soft!)
     Remove the pot from the heat.
     Use a fine mesh strainer train the excess water off of the rice with a strainer.
     Allow the partially cooked Basmati Rice to cool to room temperature.
     Step 9:  Add 2/3 of the cooked Basmati Rice to the large portion of yogurt sauce in the mixing bowl.
     Stir till the rice is thoroughly coated.
     Set the rice mixture aside.
     Step 10:  Add 1/3 of the cooked Basmati Rice to the container of yogurt marinated onions and chicken.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Set the yogurt marinated chicken and rice mixture aside.
     Step 11:  Select a deep 8" to 9" wide seasoned cast iron skillet or cast iron baking mold.  (A heavy non-stick surface baking mold or shallow non-stick sauce pot can be used too.)
     Brush the pan with blended olive oil.
     Place 2/3 of the Basmati Rice and Yogurt Sauce Mixture in the baking mold.
     Press the rice mixture onto the bottom and sides of the baking mold, so that it lines the baking mold with an even layer of the yogurt rice.  There should be a shallow empty space in the center of the rice lined baking mold, where the chicken and rice mixture will fit.  
     Step 12:  Place the chicken yogurt rice mixture in the shallow center of the rice lined baking mold.
     Gently flatten the surface of the chicken mixture.
     Place the remaining yogurt rice mixture on top of the chicken mixture.
     Gently flatten the yogurt rice to seal the chicken mixture inside.
     Step 13:  Gently press the ingredients in the mold, so the ingredients are firmly packed with no air pockets.
     Cover the rice with a piece of parchment paper that is cut to the same size as the round baking mold.
     Cover the baking mold with a tight fitting lid or aluminum foil.
     Step 14:  Place the baking mold on a sheet pan.
     Place the pan in a 350ºF oven
     Bake for 2 hours to 2 1/2 hours, till the surface of the rice is a golden brown to brown color.
     Step 15:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Remove the lid or aluminum foil and parchment paper.
     Allow the baking mold to cool to about 100ºF.
     Step 16:  Run a paring knife around the edge of the baking mold to loosen the sides.
     Gently invert the baking mold onto a metal serving platter, so the open top of the baking mold faces down.
     Gently tap the baking mold and metal serving pan together as one against a countertop against to release the Tah-Chin onto the platter.
     Remove the baking mold.
     *The  surface of baked Tah-chin rice should be caramelized and firm enough to hold the Tah-Chin shape together.  If the rice happens to stick to the mold, then do the best that you can to shape it back together and make it look nice. 
     Step 17:  Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of pomegranate fruit on the platter around the Tah-chin ba morgh to create a jeweled effect.
     Serve with a ramekin of goat milk yogurt, mint sprigs and some virgin olive oil on the side.

     Tah-chin ba morgh takes some extra time and effort to make, but the great flavor of the finished entrée will surely please guests!

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