Azerbaijani rice pilafs prepared with the “drain-and-steam” technique are called by their general name, suzme plov, which literally means “drained pilaf.” The name stems directly from how the rice is prepared. Thoroughly washed and presoaked rice is par-boiled in salted water, then drained and heaped atop a gazmag, or crust, that turns golden as it cooks, then brightened with aromatic saffron, dotted with butter, and steamed until it is tender, elongated, and fluffy. Note that when meat takes the place of the crust, the pilaf is called dosheme plov, or layered pilaf.
When the pilaf is served, the crust is placed decoratively on top of it. It is somewhat crunchy, yet tender, too. There are many ways to prepare the crust. It can be made with par-cooked rice, or from butter dough, from lavash, and even from sliced potatoes! Here’s one variety – rice crust – which I think you will love! What you see in the picture is dilled rice pilaf accompanied with this particular type of crust.
Golden Rice Crust (Duyu Gazmaghi)
Par-cooked rice mixed with yogurt and egg, infused with saffron, or, if not available, with turmeric powder, yields a golden and wonderfully tender crust. Note that this recipe yields a rather thin crust. But no worries, as it is not a hard one, but rather somewhat crunchy on the outside and tender inside. Sometimes, a thicker crust is made as well. Just double the amount of ingredients for a thicker crust. Note that these amounts are for a 9-inch (23-cm) wide pot, so adjust the ingredients if using a bigger pot for your pilaf.
Follow the directions on how to presoak, par-cook, and drain the rice from here. Put a spatulaful (1 ½ cup) of the boiled and drained rice in a mixing bowl. Add 4 tablespoonfuls plain yogurt or sour cream, 1 egg, and pinch of salt. Add 1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric and stir to mix. Instead of turmeric, you can also add saffron infusion (powder a pinch of saffron using a mortar and a pestle. Dissolve the powdered saffron in 1 tablespoon hot water in a small bowl or a cup. Let stand a few minute then add the saffron infusion to the rice-yogurt mixture.) Gently stir to mix the ingredients.
Melt 3-4 tablespoons butter on the bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) pot you will be steaming your rice in.
Using a slotted spoon, spread the mixture evenly over the melted butter on the bottom of the pan. Cook the crust, uncovered and without stirring, over low heat for a few minutes, to allow it to set slightly. Leave it as is and spoon the rice on top before steaming it. Or, for a an easier unmolding and better presentation, with a wooden spatula, cut the crust circle into wedges right in the pan before spooning the rice on top. To serve, unmold the crust wedges and arrange decoratively on top of the rice, golden side up.
Variation: Spiced Rice Crust
Prepare the rice crust as directed above, adding to the batter a generous pinch of coriander seeds crushed with a mortar and pestle, and a generous pinch of anise seeds. Sometimes, a pinch of powdered cardamom is also added to the mixture, for a more fragrant crust.
To learn how to steam the rice after the crust has been spread on the bottom of the pan, please refer to the recipe here.