A dish in Nawal Nasrallah’s Delights from the Garden of Eden listed as an Iraqi-Jewish traditional meal served on the Sabbath in Baghdad and cooked in a tannour. The tannour was a wood-fired communal oven; it is still being used in some rural areas in Lebanon today to make bread.
The chicken and rice would bake in a pot in the tannour for a long time, allowing the rice to develop a delicious crust.
Well, there are no tannour here in Dallas so this was made in an electric oven by modifying and streamlining the recipe to achieve the same results.
This dish can be extraordinarily good if one uses a free-range organic chicken, some homemade tomato sauce, Basmati rice and a cast-iron pan.
I modified Mrs. Nasrallah’s recipe but I will indicate her method as well.
INGREDIENTS: up to 6 servings
- 1 free-range chicken weighing about 4 pounds
- 1 lemon
- 2 cups of Basmati rice
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large onions
- 4 large tomatoes, or a 14 oz can of good-quality tomatoes such as San Marzano
- Olive oil, as needed
- Spices: 1 tablespoon of seven-spice or 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of allspice, 1/4 tsp of black pepper, 1 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of white pepper, 1 tsp of cardamom
- Place the rice in a bowl and cover with water and a dash of salt. Soak the rice for 30 minutes or longer.
- Rub the chicken with cut chunks of lemon and sprinkle with the spices (minus the cardamom). Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large (I used a 10 inch) cast iron pan (with 4 inch edges all around) and brown the chicken on both sides for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat.
- For the tomato sauce: The sauce can be done ahead and frozen. Chop the onions and fry in olive oil till golden; add the tomatoes, peeled and cut in small dice, and stew the mixture for about 30 minutes, adding a teaspoon of sugar if desired. You should have 2 cups of tomato mixture; you may also add tomato paste and some water to the stew while simmering to increase its volume.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and set is aside; heat the pot, scraping the chicken bits. Drain the rice and add it to the pot. Stir the rice to coat all the rice in oil. Preheat the oven to 375F. Add the tomato stew to the rice and the cardamom and let the stew simmer for a few minutes until the rice absorbs the tomato liquid. Place the chicken in the middle of the rice mixture, add about 3 cups of water and place the chicken in the oven, covering it with a piece of foil; let it bake for 15 minutes then lower the heat and bake it at 350F for about 45 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all the stock and the chicken is cooked. You may add the eggs 20 minutes before the end of baking with their shell, but I preferred to boil them separately.
Mrs. Nasrallah adds coriander to the spices (1 tsp); she also fries the chicken gizzards with an onion beforehand and adds some spices to them, one cup of tomato sauce and half the rice; she stuffs the chicken with this mixture and sews up the bird. She then browns the chicken and onion in a little oil and adds a cup of tomato sauce simmering the chicken for about 15 minutes. She then adds 4 cups of water and the eggs and simmers the mixture, covered, for about 45 minutes. She then removes the chicken and adds the remaining rice in the pot and cooks the rice 15 minutes; then the chicken and eggs are added back and the dish is left to simmer for one hour or longer until a crust forms.
NOTE: I used a cast-iron pot which gave the rice a crust after 40 minutes of baking in the oven.