This is an Iranian recipe. I am an admirer of Persian culture as well as its cuisine. I hope that someday I can visit Iran and see first hand the amazing architectural sights, especially in Isfahan, the city that Agatha Christie called “the most beautiful city in the world“. For the time being, I simply enjoy Persian cuisine from time to time and this dish is one of my favorite. It encompasses the essence of Persian cuisine, because it mixes sweet (fruit) and savory (chicken) in a wonderful way. In Lebanese cuisine I found a few dishes that are similar and I am sure they were a reflection of the Persian influence. After all, in 600 BC, the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great took over Lebanon for two centuries and made Sidon its capital, naming a Phoenician satrapwho built and commanded the Persian navy. A couple of hundred years later, the Greeks took over and Alexander the Great laid siege to Tyre for seven months.
Revenons à nos moutons, like the French say. (let’s get back to the topic at hand)
This chicken dish is ideal for a party because it tastes better the next day. So, it is best prepared in advance. The rice, however, needs to be cooked about two hours before serving (its fragrance will envelop the room) and it does require your attention! All in all, this is a special meal that will enchant your guests. It is also the title of Marjane Satrapi’s book Chicken with plums(Poulet aux prunes) in which she tells (graphically) the tale of the last days of her famous uncle, a musician, who loved that dish.
I consulted Linda Chirinian’s Secrets of Cooking for the chicken recipe and Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life for the rice.
INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield 6 servings
- 1.5 pounds chicken thighs, skinned
- 1 medium onion (about 5 ounces), chopped fine
- 1 pound of carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds or matchsticks
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
- 1 large orange, juiced or 1/4 cup orange juice
- 12 (or more) pitted prunes
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- 4 (or more) tablespoons clarified butter or oil
- 1/2 cup (or more) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron, crushed and steeped in 2 tablespoons hot water
- Rinse the chicken or rub with a cut lemon. Pat dry and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper all around.
- Dip the chicken in flour.
- Heat the oil or clarified butter in a large skillet and brown the chicken all over, which will take about 25 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken pieces into a large pot. Add the chicken broth or water to the skillet and scrape the browned bits from the skillet to release and incorporate into the broth. Add the broth with the browned bits to the pot with the chicken.
- Add more clarified butter to the skillet and drop the onion in the skillet and fry till translucent. Add the carrots and the brown sugar and stir to coat the carrots. Fry for about 10 or 15 minutes to soften the carrots and let them caramelize a bit.
- Add the carrots and onions to the pot.
- Strain the saffron and add to the pot with the chicken and carrots and onions. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes. At this point, you can collect the broth from the pot by straining it and let it sit in the freezer for a couple of hours to collect the fat that congeals on the surface. Place the broth back in the pot with the chicken and vegetables.
- Add the orange juice and the prunes to the pot. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
- Serve the chicken with Basmati rice.
TO MAKE THE RICE:
- 2 cups of Basmati rice
- 4 cups of water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons plain yoghurt (can be replaced by 2 egg yolks)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water or pounded in mortar with a pinch of sugar
- 1/2 cup of clarified butter or oil
- Place the rice in a large bowl and pour some lukewarm water over it. Agitate the rice and water gently with your hand, then pour the water off. Repeat this 5 times until the rice is clean.
- Soak the rice in 4 cups of water with one tablespoon of salt for 2 hours (up to 24 hours)
- Bring 4 cups of water with 2 teaspoons of salt to the boil in a non-stick pot. Drain the rice and place it in the pot. Boil the rice for 6 minutes. Stir the pot a couple of times during the cooking to make sure no rice is stuck at the bottom of the pot. Grab a couple of grains with the spoon and bite them. If they are soft, the rice is ready. If not, let boil one minute longer.
- Immediately drain the rice in a colander, pouring a few cups of water over the drained rice to rinse it.
- Place the yoghurt in a small bowl. Add to the yoghurt about 1/3 cup of clarified butter, 1/4 cup of water and the saffron water and mix well. Add three spatulas of the drained rice to this mixture and place the yoghurt/rice mixture in the bottom of the non-stick pot, packing it down with the spatula all over the bottom of the pot. This is the trick to create a golden crust or tah dig (hasseera) which will be displayed when the rice is cooked.
- Taking one spatula of rice at a time, gently place it on top of the rice and yoghurt layer, forming a pyramid. Poke two holes in the rice pyramid with the handle of a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Cover the pot and cook the rice for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat to form the golden crust. This is the tricky part, because you want the crust to be golden not black or brown!
- Mix the remaining butter with 1/2 cup of hot water and pour over the rice pyramid. Place a cleaned dish towel (or you can use some sturdy paper towels) over the pot, cover with the lid and cook for another 30 minutes and up to 40 minutes longer, on low heat.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Place the rice on a damp surface for 5 minutes to free the crust. I use a trick which is to place the pot on a cookie sheet on which I scattered a few ice cubes.
- Invert the rice on a platter (holding the platter tight over the uncovered pot, then flip!)
- Serve the rice in wedges.
23 Comments • Comments Feed