Eggs on crispy saffron rice

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This recipe was inspired by our first experience - in a roadside cafe - of the sublime flavour and texture of Iranian Black Tail rice, grown near the Caspian Sea. It is impossible to buy outside Iran but basmati rice is a good second best I think this makes a perfect light lunch or supper, served with a salad.

Ingredients

  • 250 g basmati rice
  • 2 pinches of saffron strands
  • 300 ml hot salted water
  • 75 g butter
  • 3 pieces cinnamon stick, each about 3 cm long handful of dill
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • sea salt
  • finely sliced red onion to finish

Method

Put the rice in a sieve, rinse through with water and tip into a bowl, adding 1 teaspoon salt and about 500ml water. Sprinkle the saffron strands into the 300ml hot salted water in a jug and stir around. Leave both the rice and saffron to soak for an hour or more. Then drain the rice.

Put a round, wide serving dish to warm in a low oven. Melt 50 g of the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the cinnamon sticks and the rice and stir for a moment. Pour in the saffron-infused water, including the strands. Bring just to the boil, then turn down the heat as low as you can. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the liquid but still has a bite to it.

Now lay a tea-towel on top of the pan under the lid and tie the corners together on top of the lid so they don’t burn. Turn up the heat as high as possible to crisp the bottom layer of rice; this takes about 8-12 minutes. Don’t try to stir the rice to see if the bottom is browning, instead look at the top rim of the rice; when you see that the sides are just beginning to brown it will be ready. In my experience it has never burnt too much.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave on one side for 10 minutes, leaving the lid and tea-towel in place. Meanwhile, chop most of the dill finely, reserving a few leaves for garnish.

Fork the rice out into the warmed serving dish, scraping the crisped bottom with a fork and stirring the brown grains among the rest of the rice. Add the chopped dill and fork through, then spread the rice level.

Heat the olive oil and remaining 25 g butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the eggs until the whites are set; the yolks should remain runny. Carefully transfer the eggs with a spatula onto the rice and top with a few red onion rings and the reserved dill. Eat at once.