I read a post this week on the BBC entitled ‘Should I worry about arsenic in my rice?’ It was an informative look by Dr Michael Mosley at the reasons rice ‘may’ contain levels of arsenic. He explained that due to the way rice is grown (flooded conditions) the arsenic that is locked into soil can be more easily absorbed into rice. He went on to explain that there are ways that we can reduce this risk and one of which is the way we soak rice or cook it.
It got me thinking about the way Persian rice is cooked and why our rice is so different. Apart from the obvious look and flavour differences of our rice, one of the main things that separates Persian rice from the rest is the way we handle it before we get to the cooking and eating stage.
When I was taught to cook rice I was taught to wash it clean. To ensure the water runs crystal clear in the bowl of rice before you add any seasoning to it or start cooking it as this is washing away the impurities and ensuring that when cooked it remains singular not a sticky sloppy mess. What I understand as an adult when I cook it, is that through this little bit of extra love and attention to cooking rice it is actually a far safer way to cook it and limits any dangerous bacteria and levels of the aforementioned arsenic by as much as 80%! A very good reason to wash your rice first!
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a self-confessed rice snob. One of the things I really dislike is badly cooked rice. And rice with no flavour. The absolute travesty of these is American long grain and those awful pre-cooked packet rice which I am glad to say I do not posses and will never be allowed to darken my door step not least my plate!
These things are the reasons that so many people misunderstand rice and see it as just a filler ‘the side’ the ‘support act’.
Well, rice deserves more respect than that. Firstly its story and its legacy is one of utmost importance and it does not deserve to be just the bland accompaniment to your main dish.
Rice has provided food and homes for people for millions of years. Whole economies rely on its very existence. And secondly, cooked correctly it is absolutely delicious! Full of flavour and without doubt the crowd pleaser of the meal! Having said all of that I thought I best add a little recipe for traditional white Persian rice. Better know as ‘Polo ba tadig’ Enjoy!
Polo Ba Tadig
1 cup of good quality basmati rice per person plus and additional cup for the pan. For this recipe I will use 4 cups.
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pistachio/sliced almonds and rose petals to garnish
Use a good non stick pan or an Iranian Rice cooker. A Western rice cooker will not do for the tadig (the crusty bit) as they turn off at a certain temperature and just continue to steam it.
Wash the rice until the water runs clear. This removes the excess starch out of the rice and any impurities.
Once all clear empty the water. Then add a cup of water per cup of rice and an additional cup of water for the pan. The water should come up to approx an inch above the rice.
Add the salt to taste. This is quite a salty rice traditionally. I usually use around 1/2 tablespoon of salt but I taste the water and add more if needed.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
If cooking in a pan, add to a hob on a medium heat for around 30 minutes. Once the rice starts to boil turn down to a simmer for another 20 minutes or so. You will know when the rice is done as it starts to smell like popcorn. To turn out of the pan put the lid on and run the bottom under a cold tap then turn upside down onto a plate. If using a rice cooker it is very easy. Just turn it on to your desired colour and when the light goes out it is done! Decorate as you wish.