When prepared properly, basmati rice is a simple accompaniment that will enhance grilled meats and vegetables. Fluffy and buttery, basmati rice can also be the main course, as with this example. Let's get right into it.
The most important part of any basmati rice dish is going to be the rice itself. If you goto a Persian / Indian, even Asian/Korean grocery store, that's where you're going to find authentic basmati rice. If it's not grown in either Pakistan or India, it's not going to be top-tier quality. Look for basmati rice that has been parboiled in cream, this will give you the best, most fluffy texture. For this recipe, I would suggest using 2 quarts of basmati rice (thats 8 cups).
First off, you'll need to prepare your rice by rinsing and straining it in a mesh strainer multiple times until the water underneath is running clear. This is washing away the excess starch from the rice, which will result in grains that are refined and individualized, rather than mushy and sticking together. After you've done this, drop the rice into a bowl and pour warm water over it until it is fully submerged. Allow it to rest like this for at least 2 hours. Now that your rice is soaking, we'll need to prepare the saffron. Use about a 1/2 gram of saffron to 1/2 cup of room temperature filtered water, gently mix in a bowl and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes is up, you will have a brightly infused saffron water. Strain the saffron threads out, set them aside, we're going to use them as a garnish once you're ready to plate.
Now back to the rice. You're going to parboil your rice by bringing water to a boil, salting it to taste, then dropping in your rice. You want to make sure the rice is fully submerged. This part is probably the trickiest because it's all about timing: you aren't cooking the rice, you're just parboiling it, and you want to pull the rice off the heat and strain it IMMEDIATELY as soon as you get an "al dente" texture. This will take about 15-20 minutes. So during that crucial 15-20 minute interval, you need to be tasting grains every few seconds to gauge if you are at "al dente". Once you have the desired texture, pull the pot off the stove, have your colander or mesh strainer ready, because you're going to strain this rice out until it's nice and dry.
Now for the most fun part: baking your rice. Pre-heat your oven to 425 Fahrenheit. This is where the rice actually gets cooked. In a large oven-capable deep pot or pan, take a healthy couple tablespoons of butter, melt it down, and rub down the entire bottom and sides of your pot or pan so that it is coated in butter (this is crucial for an optimal, authentic final result). Next, begin layering your 'al dente' rice until you've filled your pot. Make sure you're not compacting the rice; let the grains fall into place naturally. Once you've got a full pot of rice, you're going to take your saffron water, and with a tiny spoon, the tiniest one you can find, you're going to lightly drip streaks of this saffron water over the top layer of your rice. You're not trying to cover every grain, you're just trying to create an artsy flair, so have fun with this part.
You're done building your rice dish, now cover the open top of your pot or pan with aluminum foil; make sure it is covered tightly with no gaps whatsoever. You don't want any moisture or steam getting out. Close the lid, and slide the pot into the oven. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes is up, turn the oven off, but do not open the oven, leave the pot in inside the oven (sealed as-is) for another 20 minutes. This last 20 minutes is the crucial step that will guarantee you'll get fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth basmati rice. Now pull the pot out, be extremely careful the steam doesn't float into your eyes when you take the lid and foil off. That captured steam has been building up and waiting to escape for an hour. Now that the lid is off, all you need to do is plate and serve. If you've done everything correctly, you should also have 'tadig' at the bottom and sides of the pan. Remember the butter? Tadig is the result of that butter frying the outside and bottom layers of rice and crisping them up. It's an absolute delicacy. At restaurants we carve the tadig off and top every plate off with it. It almost ends up looking like a bread (but made up of butter-blasted rice).
Excellent description. Just ordered your saffron and will make this recipe when it arrives. Excited to try!