This elaborate method of rice cookery produces a dish of great elegance. Chelou is always served with khoresh, a meat stew with a thick sauce.
Total time: 2¾-4-½ hours
Rinsing and soaking: 1-¼-3 hours
Final preparation: 1-½ hours
6 cups (3 lbs.) rice
½ cup salt (for soaking)
1 gallon water
4 tbsp. salt (for boiling)
6 tbsp. Butter
½ cup yogurt
¼ tsp. saffron, dissolved in 2 tsp. water
4 tbsp. butter
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Wash the rice thoroughly in three changes of cold water to remove excess starch. Turn it into a large bowl, sprinkle over ½ cup salt, and let it soak for 1-3 hours to prevent breakage.
Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a pot large enough for the grains to have plenty of room to roil around. Drain the rice and add it and 4 tablespoons salt to the pot; boil vigorously, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the rice. Test a grain by biting it in half; if it just barely cooked at the core, it is done. Remove the rice from the heat, drain it and gently rinse it with warm water. Take care not to break the rice grains. If the rice needs more salt, give it another rinse with warm salted water.
Over low heat, in a heavy saucepan or casserole, melt 6 tablespoons butter and swirl it over the inner surface of the pan. Beat 2 eggs with ½ cup yogurt, then blend in 1 cup of the cooked rice. Spread this mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Fill the pan with the rest of the rice by sprinkling it in with a spoon and mounding it up in the center. Make several deep holes in the mound to allow steam to escape.
Place a clean dishtowel over the top of the pot to absorb excess moisture. Cover the pot tightly and bake the rice for 45 minutes. Final-stage steaming may also be done on the stovetop. Cover the pot tightly with a dishtowel and the lid, then turn up the heat until the rice just begins to steam. Lower the heat and continue to steam for 45 minutes.
Remove the pot from the oven or stovetop and place it, still covered, on a cool, wet surface for 10 minutes. This simplifies removal of the brown crust, the tadig, from the pan.
Run a spatula around the sides of the pot to loosen the rice. Gently stir the chelou to make it fluffy, then turn it out onto a warm serving dish in a mound. Remove the tadig and serve it separately.
from Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook