I didn’t mention duck in the title of this dish for a reason, in Persian rice dishes the meat is just for protein, the star of the dish is the rice. They like duck in Iran, particularly in the North where the rice is grown, around the Caspian sea. They grow some extraordinarily good varieties of rice in Iran, I am told, but I will have to go there to find out as there is never enough for export. For Persian polows which are flavoured rice dishes (barberry, lentil, dill and broad bean, the King of them all the jewelled rice, all great with duck, particularly the broad bean polow) and chelows which are plain or saffron flavoured, you can use the best quality basmati you can find. To find the best go to a Persian or Indian shop and ask which is the best rice they have.
Look I know you know what cinnamon, rose petals and saffron look like and probably dried limes too but the photo was rather fun to make. Dried limes are made by boiling the fresh limes in salted water then drying them in the sun. They have a really weird but loveable smell. The inside is black as you can see which leads to the name black limes, they also get called Omani limes as they are originally from Oman. They are particularly good when cooking duck, being slightly bitter and slightly sour.
The preparation and cooking of the rice is the same for all the polows and chelows, basically soak, boil then steam. All for good reason, the rice is so light, tastes delicious and surprisingly nutritious. But first for the spice blend for the rice which can be used in many of the other polows and keeps well if air and light ‘tight’.
Spice blend for Persian rice dishes: 2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 5 green cardamom pods, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp dried rose petals. Dry fry the fennel, coriander and cardamom until fragrant then pound in a mortor and pestle, pick out the casings from the cardamom seeds. Add the cinnamon and rose petals then pound some more, the rose petals will not break down much but it doesn’t matter.
For the Polow:
4 duck legs
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed a bit
2 dried limes
¾ cup dried sour cherries (unsweetened)
1 tbsp white sugar
2 cups basmati rice
¼ cup raw pistachios
¼ cup blanched almonds
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp salt (not your best flakes but something reasonable)
2 tsp spice blend
a pinch of saffron
Put the duck legs straight into a heavy pot with a lid add the onion, garlic and enough water to cover the legs plus a bit extra on top. Poke a few holes in the dried limes so they don’t just float around on the top not doing anything and add to pot. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer 1 ½ hours. When the duck is cool enough to handle take the meat off the bones in large pieces and reserve the remaining, strained duck stock. Skim the stock for fat or if you have time refrigerate the stock and remove the congealed fat. Reserve 1 cup of stock for the polow.
When you are ready to assemble the polow, (the above steps can be done well in advance), wash then soak the rice in plenty of cold water with 1 tbsp of the salt for about 20 minutes or until it looks opaque instead of translucent. Simmer the cherries in 2 cups of water with the sugar for 15 minutes. Strain the cherries keeping the liquid, and stone them if they are not stoned already. Soak the nuts in the cherry liquid for 10 minutes then coarsely chop them, keep the liquid.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the rest of the salt. Boil the rice for 3 minutes then strain it. Wash the rice with cold water and gently run a fork through the rice to separate the grains.
If you have a rice cooker then perfect, otherwise assemble the polow in a large pot in the same way. Put the olive oil in the bottom of the bowl of the rice cooker and swirl it around to coat. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the rice in the bowl then put in the duck meat, half of the cherries, half of the spice blend, half of the saffron and half of the chopped nuts. Pour over all of the duck stock. Loosely add another 1/3 of the rice, building the polow up in a pyramid shape, then add the rest of the cherries, spice blend and saffron. Top this with the remaining rice. Sprinkle over the top some of the cherry liquid, it is up to you how sweet you want this dish but I don’t use all that much, maybe 1 tablespoon altogether. Poke three holes in the rice with the end of a wooden spoon to help with the steaming. Wrap the lid of the steamer in a tea towel then turn the rice cooker on. Once it flips onto the warm setting leave the polow to steam for 15 minutes, after this time you can leave it on warm for another 15 minutes or so until you are ready to eat.
If you are using a pot on top of the stove it will pay off because you will get a really crisp tah dig, the bottom browned layer of rice. Put a tight lid on the pot, turn the heat initially up high to get the steam happening, about 7 minutes, then turn it down to as low as can go for 15 minutes to finish steaming.
To serve tip the polow onto a platter and gently mix the rice to disperse pockets stained yellow by the saffron. Sprinkle the remaining almonds and pistachios over the top.