Havij polo is not just another Persian rice dish. It’s rather an experience and a destination, much like getting a stamp on your passport at the end of an exotic journey! This dish is truly a journey of colors and flavors!
Though there’s quite a variety of rice pilaf dishes in Persian cuisine, there are probably 10 that most Iranians would be able to list without even thinking. Havij Polo is right up there in my top 5 list of Persian rice dishes.
What makes this dish so distinctive is the simplicity and the delicate combination of ingredients that lend themselves to creating a highly flavorful, mildly sweet, and aromatic dish. Here I have combined the lightly sauteed carrots with fragrant candied orange and tossed them with bloomed saffron. The result is, well, self-evident; a colorful and vibrant dish that is bound to be a visual and gastronomic hit on your spread!
Each region, of course, will make its own variation on this dish by introducing more aromatics such as cinnamon, cumin, rose petals, or rose water. It is also customary to add a small number of raisins or dates to this dish.
This is a good example of a Persian dish that you can easily adjust to suit your palate and taste preferences. For example, the chicken can be replaced by either stewed lamb or beef. Or, if you prefer to reduce the amount of animal food in your diet, you can consider having this dish with sunny-side-up fried eggs.
Though highly not traditional, one of my favorite ways of eating this dish is with roasted tofu! Toss the tofu with a medley of warming spices such as cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and red chili powder, and some salt and oil and roast in the oven for a perfectly seasoned plant-based protein!
- 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 8 tablespoons hot water, divided
- 1 Navel orange peeled, cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, ground
- 4 pieces chicken thighs and breasts, with bone-in and skin-on preferred
- 1 cup water, more as needed
- 3 tablespoons saffron water
- 4 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons saffron water
- 2 cups white basmati rice, soaked for 1 hour and rinsed
- 8 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt, for parboiling rice and will be rinsed out
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons saffron water
- 1/4 cup slivered or chopped pistachios
- Using a smooth mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads into a fine ground, add hot water, stir and set aside.
- Score the navel orange into quarters with a paring knife, approximately 1/8 inch deep. Peel the orange and remove as much of the pith as possible. Thinly slice the orange peel into matchsticks.
- Place the orange peel in a small saucepan with water and sugar, stir and bring to a gentle boil. Continue to simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the water and sugar have cooked into a small amount of syrup. Set aside.
- In a large heavy pot, sauté the onions with 2 tablespoons of oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Add turmeric, salt, and pepper and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the chicken pieces on medium-high heat for 5 minutes on each side. Return the onions to the pan, add 1 cup of water and mix well.
- Cover and cook the chicken over low heat for 75-90 minutes until the chicken is completely tender. Be sure to turn the chicken over halfway and check for the liquid level. If necessary, add a small amount of water during the cooking; however, keep in mind that the finished dish should not be watery.
- Once the chicken is cooked, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of saffron water and stir. Cook for 5 minutes and remove from heat.
- In a medium sized frying pan, sauté the carrots over medium heat with oil for about 5 minutes, add the orange peel and syrup and 3 tablespoons of saffron water and cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Select a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring 8 cups of water and salt to a boil, covered. Once boiling, add the rinsed rice and bring it back to a boil on high heat uncovered for about 6-8 minutes, or until the rice has slightly softened.
- Drain the rice in a colander, rinse with warm water, and set it aside while you prepare the pan for the next stage of cooking.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a non-stick pot.
- In a small bowl, gently mix 1 cup of the lightly cooked rice with 2 tablespoons of saffron-water and spread evenly in the bottom of the pot. This will be the crispy rice referred to as Tahdig.
- Begin by layering a 1/3 of the partially cooked rice and a 1/3 of the carrot mixture until all rice and carrots are layered in the pot. Next, wrap the lid with a clean towel and place it on top of the pot.
- Allow the rice to steam over medium-low to medium heat for 45 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- Select a large serving platter to place on top of the pan and carefully and swiftly invert the rice onto the platter.
- Arrange the braised chicken around the platter, garnish with pistachios on top and serve.