Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust
4 to 6 servings
1 1/2 hours, mostly unattended
This is the first stuck-pot rice I learned to make (with thanks to the late great food writer Paula Peck). Potatoes make the crust here, complemented by the flavors of fennel and saffron. If fennel isn’t available or isn’t your thing, omit and use celery, or try one of the variations.
Don’t worry if the crust at the bottom of the pan comes out in several pieces; that part is often just broken into crisp chunks and served alongside the mound of rice. Be sure to line the pot lid with a cloth towel. This absorbs water so the condensation doesn’t drip back into the rice. Normally that doesn’t matter, but when you’re trying to dry out the bottom of the pan to form a crisp crust, excess water is counterproductive.
1 1/2 cups white or brown basmati rice
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted, or 1/4 cup olive oil
1 large or 2 small waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold or other thin-skinned variety)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it. Stir in the rice and return to a boil, then lower the heat so the water bubbles along nicely. Cook undisturbed — white rice for about 5 minutes, brown rice for about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Taste (the rice will be only partially done), add salt if necessary, and sprinkle with pepper.
2. Stir the saffron if you’re using it into 2 tablespoons of the butter. Peel the potatoes and cut them crosswise into thin slices.
3. Put 2 tablespoons plain butter in a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 2 minutes. Transfer the fennel to a bowl. Turn off the heat (no need to wipe out the pot).
4. Add 1/4 cup water and the saffron butter (or the remaining plain butter) to the pot. Carefully cover the bottom of the pot with the potato slices. Add half the rice, then the fennel, and finally the other half of the rice. Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the lid so it completely covers the inside and secure the corners on top so they don’t fall anywhere near the stove. Carefully cover the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high. When you hear the water spattering, after about 5 minutes, turn the heat down to very low. Cook, completely undisturbed, for about 45 minutes, until the potatoes start to smell toasty (you will know) but not burned. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes.
5. Carefully remove the lid and the towel and turn the pot upside down over a large plate. If the potatoes come out in a single crust, terrific. If not, use a spatula to scrape the pieces out of the pan and put them on top of the rice. Serve, sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper if you like.
Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust and Lima Beans Use 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill instead of the saffron. Instead of the fennel, use 11/2 cups frozen lima beans (no need to thaw them). Everything else stays the same.
Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust, Lemon, and Herbs Brighter in flavor: Use 2 thinly sliced lemons (with peels but no seeds) instead of the fennel. Instead of saffron, use 1/2 cup chopped fresh mild herbs like parsley, mint, or a combination; 1 teaspoon minced strong herb like tarragon, thyme, or rosemary; or a couple of teaspoons oregano or marjoram, sprinkling them over the layers of potato, lemon, and rice.
Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust, Almonds, and Ginger
Omit the saffron. Instead of the fennel, use 1/2 cup sliced almonds and 2 tablespoons each sesame seeds and minced fresh ginger. This will take 3 or 4 minutes to soften and get fragrant.