Friday, March 8, 2013

Reshteh Polo ba Swai

Persian noodle rice with iridescent shark!

     Depending on the dialect, Reshteh Polo can be spelled a few different ways.  Polo can be spelled polou or polow.  Ba swai means with swai.  No matter how it is spelled, this traditional noodle and rice recipe is always made with Persian rice cooking techniques.  
     Basmati rice does vary in quality.  Cheaper bleached basmati brands at common grocery stores do not become long and fluffy when they are cooked.  Top quality basmati rice at a Persian Arabic middle eastern market can be purchased for nearly the same price as a grocery store bargain brand.  "My friend!  Why pay the price for an old worn out camel, when for the same price you can have a reliable racing camel that is in top condition!"  I simply cannot resist using my Syrian Lebanese step grandfather's cliche Arabic sales pitches!
     The basmati rice is soaked in water for 2 hours and then rinsed 5 to 7 times, before it is cooked.  The rice grains become elongated, light and fluffy after cooking, when this method is used.  That is, unless you ended up buying a cheap low quality basmati rice at a grocery store that had the quality of an old worn out camel, like I did.  I never tried a bargain brand of basmati rice before and I truly was not impressed with the quality.  The rice in the pictures should have become much fluffier and this rice does not have the same characteristics as basmati rice that was cooke in past recipes in this food site.  Ce est la vie!  Another lesson learned.
     Short lengths of thin vermicelli pasta are cooked and added to the rice.  If you ever wondered about where the idea for creating the American Rice-A-Roni came from, then this will answer the question.  Persian Reshteh Polo is the original Rice-A-Roni.  Persians have been making this noodle rice recipe since many years before Rice-A-Roni was marketed.  Very little is mentioned about the origins of Rice-A-Roni on the package, but many of the seasonings are Persian Arabic in origin.  Especially the almond pilaf seasoned one.  Pilaf is also an old Persian rice creation.  Persia has a long history of creating many of the world's greatest rice recipes.
     There are two ways to prepare the vermicelli.  The dried vermicelli can be sauteed or roasted till it becomes a light brown color, just like making pilaf or the vermicelli can be plain boiled.  Both methods are good, but Reshteh Polo purists do expect the noodles to be browned. 
     According to the rules of Hebrew and Islam, no bottom feeding fish are supposed to be eaten.  From a health standpoint, bottom feeding fish do tend to collect a higher percentage of mercury and contaminants than predator species of fish.  Iridescent shark is called swai in America.  Iridescent shark is a larger type of catfish that comes from rivers that feed the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.  
     Not all catfish are bottom feeders who eat rotten garbage.  There are many predator catfish, like swai and sail cats, that feed only on fish, shrimp and vegetables.  The meat of swai is noticeably cleaner tasting than channel catfish, blue catfish or bullhead catfish.  Swai meat is white, light and flaky.  Swai has a very nice savory flavor that is unlike any other catfish.  Swai do grow very large and they are a freshwater farmed fish, so sustainability is not an issue. 

     Reshteh Polo:
     This recipe makes enough Persian noodle rice for two servings!
     Soak 1/3 cup of black currant raisins in 1 cup of water, till they becomes softened.
     Soak 2 cups of basmati rice in water for 2 hours.
     Rinse the rice 5 to 7 times.
     Boil 3 3/4 cups of water in a sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add the soaked rice.
     Return the liquid to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Place a lid on the pot. 
     Simmer and steam the rice, till it becomes tender.
     Drain off any excess water.
     Keep the rice warm on a stove top.
     Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter).
     Add 1 cup of thin sliced small onion strips.
     Saute till the onions show light brown highlights.  
     Add the raisons and their soaking liquid.
     Add 1 cup of chicken broth.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric.
     Add 3 pinches of saffron or 5 pinches of safflower saffron.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Add 3/4 cup of 1" to 1 1/2" long vermicelli pieces.  
     Option:  The vermicelli can be roasted to a tan color in a 350º first or it can be plain.
     Gently boil the vermicelli, till it becomes tender.  Add a splash of chicken broth, if the noodles soak up all the liquid in the pan.  After the vermicelli finishes cooking and becomes tender, there should be 3/4 cup of liquid in the pan.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add the cooked basmati rice.
     Stir the ingredients together and break up any rice clumps.
     Simmer the rice, till any excess liquid is absorbed and till the rice becomes a yellow color.
     Keep the Reshteh Polo warm on a stove top.

     Seared Swai:
     Cut 12 ounces of swai filet into 4 equal size pieces.
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of each of these spices over the filets:
     - coriander
     - cumin
     - ground dried mild red chile pepper
     - sumac berry spice 
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of blended olive oil or ghee (clarified butter).
     Add the petite swai filets.
     Sear the swai filets, till they become lightly browned and halfway cooked, before flipping the filets.  Flip the filets only once!
     Sear the filets till they become fully cooked.
     Remove the pan from the heat.

     Reshteh Polo ba Swai:
     The Reshteh Polo ba Swai is presented simply and modestly in the pictures above.  Modest presentations of classic food never go out of style!  The flavor does all the talking!  
     Mound the reshteh high on the center of a plate.
     Place the seared swai filets so they are evenly spaced around the noodle rice.
     Garnish with Italian parsley sprigs.

     The saffron aroma is captivating and the champagne grape raisons add a nice rich sweet cassis flavor.  Chicken or no meat at all is how Reshteh Polo is most often served.  With chicken, this entree is called Reshteh Polo ba Morg.  The seared swai filets add a nice light whitefish flavor.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

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