Bottoms Up Rice
Serves 4 to 6
WHEN I WAS FIRST ADOPTED, I would often forgo cookies and milk and ask instead for a snack of steamed rice with just a pat of butter. And ever since I could stand by my grandfather’s side and watch him cook, I’ve experimented with rice in all its forms. This is one of my favorite ways to offer the grain, both for flavor and presentation.
Some of the best dishes are the result of a beautiful blunder: Enter the French Tatin sisters and their famous upside-down apple tart. Once, I got distracted and forgot about a pot of rice on the stove and was pleasantly surprised to discover that with some modification, the mistake would soon become an oft-requested dish. This rice is delicious thanks to the golden crust that forms when cooking the grains a second time. This “golden bottom” goes by other names, including tadig, concolón, soccarat, and nurungji in Korean. I like shallots for the crust, but any thinly sliced white or yellow onion would also be good; it’s best not to enlist scallions for this adventure. Some Persian friends use thinly sliced potato, lettuce leaves, or even very slim slices of bread to create the lovely buried treasure. Layer the bottom as nicely as possible, since it will be the top of the dish once it’s turned out. The technique may seem difficult at first, but once you’ve made this rice several times, you’ll become addicted.
For color and flavor, toss in a few saffron threads that have soaked in warm water. I make this in a heavy-bottomed nonstick 10-inch skillet to make turning out the rice easier.
1¼ cups long-grain rice (preferably basmati or jasmine)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ cup halved and thinly sliced shallots or yellow onion
Flaky finishing salt, for serving
1. Rinse the rice under running water several times, until the water is clear; drain.
2 Add the rinsed rice, 2¼ cups water, and the salt to a 10-inch nonstick skillet and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 14 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Empty the rice into a large bowl, draining any excess water. Wipe out the bottom of the pan with a paper towel. Heat the oil and butter in the skillet over medium-high heat until frothy. Add the shallots, stirring occasionally, and let cook for about 3 minutes. Spread the shallots in a single layer across the bottom of the skillet. Gently and evenly spread the rice over the shallots, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula or large spoon. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook on medium-high heat for 2 minutes. You want the heat high enough to crisp and toast the rice and shallot layer without burning it. Decrease the heat to the lowest setting and let steam, covered, for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for another 5 minutes or so, until ready to serve.
3. To serve, carefully and swiftly turn the rice over onto a serving platter, like an upside-down cake, so that the golden side is bottoms up. Serve at once with a sprinkle of flaky finishing salt.
(* Recipe from A Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from My World Travels by Kim Sunee -published by Andrews McMeel, May 2014- photographs by Leela Cyd...all rights reserved)