What you need to know about rice

Before you begin to think about cooking any Persian rice dish, there are a few essential things you need to know about rice.

Polou or Chello?

  • In it’s uncooked form rice is called berenge.
  • Chello  is rice that has been soaked in salted water and par boiled. Polou is rice that has been through the previous stage of boiling and is then steamed. Polou ( if you get it right) is fluffy separate grains of rice and is not sticky.
  • Kateh is rice that has been cooked in boiling water until the water has disappeared. This is a little wetter and can be a little sticky.
  • Dami is like kateh but has other ingredients added like Estamboli Polou or Addas polou.
  • Taadig is the crust which forms at the bottom of the pan if you cook the rice long enough over a low heat.
  • There are many different grades of rice and you need a medium to good quality.  You can buy many cheaper grades of rice but you will need to experiment with the amount of time you soak it and boil it for.
  • Always, always wash the rice in water under a running tap until you see the water run clear. It carries a lot of dust and sometimes other things! Although with good quality rice the ‘other’ things shouldn’t be an issue.
  • With most recipes you will need to pre soak the rice. There are a few exceptions. The soak time will depend on the quality of the rice you use.  You can experiment with other brands.
  • I recommend ‘Mahan’ or ‘Safar’ which is available in most Iranian grocery stores but there are some good alternatives such as ‘Tilda’.
  • Dont worry if the uncooked rice isn’t brilliant white. Larger commercial companies sometimes bleach the rice to make it look more attractive. Usually though it’s a little yellowish in colour but it will turn white when cooked.

Rice cooker V traditional method?

A rice cooker is a free-standing  electrical appliance for cooking rice. The traditional method of cooking rice is time-consuming and requires your focused attention throughout the whole process. A rice cooker simplifies the process by automatically adjusting the temperature and timing and leaves you free to do other things. Once you have added the correct amount of water, it will need no further attention.

It’s not an essential to have a rice cooker but it sure is handy.  If you practice, the rice you produce from your rice cooker can be every bit as delicious as the results you get from the traditional long method. It’s even possible to make polou with additional ingredients in it. 

I can’t personally recommend any particular brand and I’ve owned many rice cookers. They come in a range of sizes and that is probably the most important consideration to think about. In the UK rice cookers cost roughly from  £25  upwards. They are easily found in electrical stores, some supermarkets and any  good Iranian Grocery store will stock them.

My personal preference is the traditional method when possible. I use my rice cooker when I’m tired or feeling lazy, need space on my cooker or when I havent got enough time.


Perfect Persian Rice

You can cook rice in a number of ways. The two most favored methods are boiling and then par boiling and steaming which is what we usually do when we are cooking rice the Persian way. It’s a little more labour intensive but I think the results are much better: the grains are separate and elongate during the cooking process to produce an end result you will be proud to serve to your family and guests.

However you have to use the right rice….. please don’t expect a good result from just any old ‘uncles’ rice. It has to be basmati rice and even then there are different grades of basmati rice so choose a high-grade and you won’t go wrong. In the UK ‘Tilda’ rice is available from all supermarkets and this would be my rice of choice.

Next it’s really essential to rinse and pre soak the rice. Place 1cup of rice per person (and I always do one extra)  in a bowl of water and swish it round gently and you might be surprised at just how murky the water becomes. This is rice dust and it will make your rice sticky and unpleasant so, AND even worse it’s starchy and therefore calorie laden… so keep rinsing the rice until the water becomes clear. Then soak it in salted water for at least two hours before you begin the cooking process. The salt helps the rice to preserve its shape and adds flavour. After two hours, you might be amazed at how much the rice has swollen.

These are grains of basmati rice before soaking and cooking

The same rice grains after boiling.

Note the difference in size and colour


Please note:  before you begin please read my notes on ‘ What you need to know about rice’

~Equipment you will need~

  • A large heavy bottomed non stick pan with a lid.
  • A large mesh sieve
  • A tea towel to wrap around the lid. Please be sure you secure it safely to avoid any risk of it catching fire.


  • Prepare an infusion of saffron ( za’faran) as described in ‘Saffron and what to do with it’
  • If you want  a good ‘ Tadig’ ( the  crispy rice crust) prepare the potatoes or naan now. Cut potatoes into thin slices. You can substitute potatoes with naan ( flat bread) or white cabbage leaves and I have even done it with iceberg lettuce leaves.


Use 1 cup of rice per person

  1. Thoroughly wash the rice until the water runs clear
  2. Soak the rice in cold, salted water for at least 2 hours before beginning to cook
  3. Boil up a large pan ofwater and when boiling  add a teaspoon of salt, a drop of saffron and a 1/3rd  teaspoon of butter
  4. Drain the rice and add it carefully to the boiling water. The water temperature will drop so allow it to comes to the boil again. Stay with it now and stir occasionally but be careful not to damage the grains.
  5. You will start to see the rice begin to expand in length. Continue to boil until the grains become ‘al dente’. Be careful they don’t become fluffy.
  6. When ‘al dente’ , drain in a mesh sieve.
  7. Rinse  to remove any unwanted starch and put to one side and allow it continue to drain.
  8. For ‘Taadig’, melt a desert spoon of butter or ghee in the pan you intend to cook the rice in.
  9. Add a tablespoon of oil, and 1/3rd of a cup of boiling water. Stir.
  10. Pour most of this into a cup for later use and add another tablespoon of oil into the pan.
  11. Place your potatoes,  naan or cabbage in the bottom of the pan and then gently place the rice on top
  12. Add 1/2 of the liquid butter, oil and water mix and wait until you see some steam.
  13. Cover with the lid and steam on a low heat for an hour to an hour and a half adding more of the liquid mix as needed. You want to prevent the rice from becoming too dry and to allow the taadig to form a crispy crust. Dont however add any more of this in the last 20 minutes of the cooking process.

~Before serving~


  • Remove a few spoons of rice into a bowl and add the infusion of za’faran. mix gently.
  • Gently spoon the rest of the rice on to your serving dish and add the za’faran rice and gently mix in.
  • Finally if you used potatoes for the taadig you can place these on your dish too. If you have any other taadig then use a separate dish to serve it in.