Video: How to make tah chin

Katayoun Lafari, from Iran, shows how to make tah chin, layered saffron rice with chicken and yoghurt.

Katayoun Lafari
Katayoun Lafari
Katayoun (Katy) Zafari was raised in Teheran, Iran, but for the past eight years lived and worked in Dubai.

She came to Dunedin with her husband in March 2014 to do a PhD in marketing, and because she had heard a lot about New Zealand and wanted to see it.

Because of the expense and amount of saffron in it, tah chin is a special dish, usually made for guests.

The golden colour and aroma of the dish represent luxury.

Her mother was known for making this dish, she said.

''Tah'' means bottom and ''chin'' means arranging, and this dish uses three ingredients special to Iranian cuisine, rice, yoghurt and saffron.


Tah chin (saffron rice with chicken and yoghurt)

Katayoun's tah chin. Photos by Peter Dowden.
Katayoun's tah chin. Photos by Peter Dowden.

1 tsp saffron, ground
1 Tbsp boiling water
500g chicken breasts cut into pieces
1 cup water
¼ tsp turmeric
1 cup basmati rice
500g thick, unsweetened natural yoghurt
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp oil
salt and pepper to taste.



Grind the saffron threads to a powder in a mortar and pestle. Add a tablespoon of boiling water, stir to dissolve, cover and set aside.

Boil a cup of rice in three cups of salted water for 5-10 minutes until it is par-cooked.

Simmer the chicken in a cup of water with a pinch of turmeric and pepper and salt to taste. The liquid should have evaporated, or it can be used as stock for something else. Set the chicken aside.

When the rice is partly cooked, drain it and rinse with a couple of cups of cold water to stop the cooking and remove any remaining salt. Drain well and put into a bowl.

Stir the saffron and egg yolk into the yoghurt to make a golden-coloured mix. Season to taste. Stir this into the rice. It should not be too liquid.

Heat the oil in the bottom of a non-stick pot then put in the rice and yoghurt mixture. Press it out so the top is level. Spread the chicken pieces over the rice and push down so the top is flat. Put the lid on the pot and cook on a medium to high heat for about 10 minutes. Then turn down the heat as low as it will go, place a clean tea towel under the pot lid and cook very slowly for 45-60 minutes. You want the rice to form a crunchy brown crust on the bottom and sides. The longer you cook it, the crispier it will be. Iranians like it very crisp and brown, she said.

When the rice is showing signs of browning at the edges, take it off the heat and carefully turn it out on to a plate. The top and sides should be crisp and chewy.

It's traditional to serve it decorated with barberries (zereshk), a very sour berry fried in a little oil and sugar. However, Katy has not seen barberries in New Zealand.



• Adding a little sugar to the saffron threads will make it easier to grind as the sugar grains help you achieve finer particles.

• In Iran they would use aromatic Iranian rice, but basmati is the closest available here.

• Katy added 2 Tbsp of salt to the rice but most New Zealanders would prefer less.

• You can marinate the chicken in the yoghurt and saffron mixture overnight for more flavour.

• You may like to cook the chicken with onion and a little saffron for more aroma and flavour.

• Don't be tempted to add the egg white: it will make the rice tough.

• Don't be tempted to add other spices or they will overwhelm the subtlety and aroma of the saffron.

• Katy says New Zealand yoghurt becomes more liquid when it is heated, whereas Iranian yoghurt doesn't, so you may have to cook this dish a little longer for the liquid to be absorbed.

• Saffron is the red stamens of the saffron crocus. Traditionally the best saffron came from Iran, according to Katy. However, New Zealand saffron is excellent quality. It is extremely labour intensive to remove the stamens from the flowers before drying, which probably contributes to its reputation as the world's most expensive spice.

• Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New World.


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