Cooking Tips
All Rice Deserves to Be Golden Crispy Rice
How to achieve that magical crunchy rice crust.
06-10-2021
Kate Bernot

My favorite part of fried rice? Not the silky egg ribbons. Not the vibrant scallions. No, it’s the golden clumps of rice that have browned to a crispy crust on the bottom of the pan. And I'm not alone: This texture is universally appreciated. Cuisines from Iran to Korea and Spain to Japan have their own versions of crispy or scorched rice.

The crispy, crusty layer forms while you let the rice cook undisturbed. I used to be tempted to stir my rice, but now that I know of the satisfying, oil-soaked rice sheet that develops when I don’t stir, it's become much easier to leave the pan alone. 

I wanted to incorporate fried rice appeal—the golden, shatteringly crispy base layer of rice—to other rice dishes, such as pilaf. Chelow, a Persian rice dish, is what I was seeking. The dish adds intrigue to a simple rice pilaf by creating a golden, crunchy rice crust beneath the upper layers of fluffy long-grain rice. This layer is known as tahdig, and to highlight it, Persian cooks invert the entire pan of rice onto a plate, leaving that beautiful crust intact. (I have not managed to pull off this showstopping move, but the rice is impressive nonetheless.)

Cooking rice to achieve the tahdig involves a few more steps than traditional stovetop rice pilaf, so I’ve learned to start a half hour earlier in my dinner prep than I would for pilaf. I follow ATK’s method for chelow, and I omit some of the herbs and seasonings (parsley and cumin seeds) if I’m seeking a more straightforward, pilaf-style side dish. Here's how to do it.

1. Rinse 2 cups of long-grain rice (preferably basmati, but I’ve successfully used jasmine as well) under cold water until the water runs clear; place the rice and 1 tablespoon of salt in a bowl and fill the bowl with 4 cups of hot water. Stir to dissolve the salt, then let stand for 15 minutes before draining.

2. Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a Dutch oven. You’ll need room for this; a standard skillet won’t be large enough. Plus, a Dutch oven’s heavy bottom helps prevent burnt rice. Add the drained rice and 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring the rice and water to a boil, stirring often, about 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Drain the rice and rinse it with lots of cold water to stop the cooking process. Wipe the Dutch oven clean and brush 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil along its bottom and an inch up its sides.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup of vegetable oil and ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt, plus a pinch of salt. (You need the Greek yogurt in there to create browning. Skip it, and your rice will just burn.) Add 2 cups of the parcooked rice to the yogurt mixture, and then stir. Spread this along the bottom of the oiled pot and pack it down with your spoon.

5. Cover this layer with the rest of the parcooked rice. (Optionally, cut 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into eight pieces and nestle them into the rice. It adds a satisfying richness.) Gently pour ⅓ cup of water over the rice.

6. Wrap a clean dish towel around the Dutch oven lid to seal in steam; cook the rice over medium-high heat until lots of steam comes out the side of the pot, about 10 minutes. Rotate the Dutch oven after 5 minutes to cook the rice evenly.

7. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue cooking for 30 to 35 minutes, until you see a golden-brown crust around the edges. (Avoid checking the rice too often and releasing steam; wait until 30 minutes to peek.) Remove the Dutch oven from the stove and place it on a damp dish towel for 5 minutes. This will help loosen the crispy rice base layer.

8. To remove the rice, you can try the fancy inversion method, or do what I do and scoop the fluffy rice out first, then pry up the bottom crispy layer with a wooden spoon and shatter it over the top of your fluffy rice. The textural contrast is so satisfying.

Crispy Rice picture

I love this rice method for the times I want my plate to have a bit of chew. Salmon, rice, and a salad is a frequent dinner in my house, but there’s not a lot of bite to those soft elements. A crispy-bottomed rice pilaf gives the plate more intrigue. Maybe one day I’ll even manage to invert the rice with the crispy layer intact—a move I’ve dubbed “the tahdig turnout.”