zereshk polow (barberry rice) with braised saffron chicken: the ultimate comfort food for a lazy sunday

there are times when you are so hungry or tired (or simply in need of a meal that gives you pure comfort) that you can’t really decide what you’d like to eat. this happens often at our house (not so pleasant when i’m the hungry one), and typically one of the only meals that gets a thumbs up from everyone under these circumstances is (persian) chicken and rice or “morgh polo,” (aka life saver)-which is simply steamed basmati rice with slow braised chicken. the rice is often flavored with saffron, or in my family, with a blend of rose petals, whole toasted cumin seeds, cinnamon, and saffron. if you want to make “zereshk polo” you leave out the spices and top the rice with slightly sweetened and buttered barberries flavored with saffron. today i’m making our traditional family chicken and rice dish.  i’m adding the barberries…so (zereshk polo) barberry rice,  our way. you can (and should) play with this general recipe to make it your own by adding (to the barberry mix) nuts such as toasted slivered almonds or pistachios, and raisins or currants-or by subtracting any of the spices you might not like. let’s start with the braised* saffron chicken, for about six:

scroll down for SHIRAZI salad recipe:

BRAISED SAFFRON CHICKEN:

  • about 2 pounds of organic skinless chicken-(either whole cut up chicken, or a combination of thighs, breasts, and drumsticks)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (see below)
  • 2 tbs turmeric
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbs safflower (or your preferred vegetable) oil
  • 1 tsp ground saffron (or a few strands seeped in warm water)

*braising is the cooking method where the food is seared (browned in a pan at a high temperature) first, then simmered with a small amount of liquid in a closed pot (pot with a lid) until tender.

chicken with water added, ready to simmer for 1 and 1/2 hour
1. heat the oil in a deep skillet, add the onions, and sautee until almost golden, then add the chicken to the pot and sprinkle with the turmeric, sea salt, and cracked pepper. sear chicken pieces on both sides on meduim/high heat (be careful not to burn the onions).
2. add a small cup (slightly less) of water and the bay leaves, cover (letting the steam out slightly), and allow the chicken to simmer softly on med/low heat for at least one hour, preferably an hour and a half. check the chicken often to make sure you don’t need to add water, adding only a little at a time if necessary-after about 1.5 hours, the onions should be almost melted, and the chicken should be very tender. 
3. add the saffron (diluted in a tiny bit of warm water) and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. don’t add the saffron any sooner, as it will lose intensity of odor and flavor. you can cook the chicken ahead (leaving the saffron out), and reheat (add saffron) for 10-15 minutes prior to serving. your chicken should be falling off the bone-if you use boneless, it is ready to serve, otherwise, remove any extra (unattractive) bones, and serve over the rice with the wonderful juices (which should be slightly thickened).
for the rice:

  • 2-3 tbsps kosher salt
  • 3 cups long grain basmati rice
  • 2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbs dry rose petals (gole sorkh)
  • 1 tsp (or about 10-12 whole strands seeped in water) ground saffron
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barberries (cleaned)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1-2 tsp brow cane sugar or 2 tsp good orange marmalade
  • 2-3 tbsp oil (safflower)

1. boil about 8 cups of water with 2 tbs kosher salt. clean and wash your rice about 4-5 times until the water is clear, and add it to the boiling water. now the tricky part-keep a close eye on the rice while it boils briskly (on high) for about 6-10 minutes, and gently stir a few times (not too much). when the rice looks like it has softened (at about 7 minutes), drain it in a large fine mesh colander. rinse with warm water.

2. in the same pot heat the oil (you can use clarified butter if you’d like) with 2-3 tbsp water, and a small touch of your ground saffron (1/4 tsp). start with a few spatulas of rice at the bottom of the pot over the oil, followed by a sprinkling of  cinnamon, cumin, and rose petals. keep layering this way creating a pyramid-rice then spices until you have finished your ingredients.  pour 1/2 cup water (i use a slotted spatula to evenly distribute). place a clean dish towel (or you can use paper towels) on top of the pot and cover firmly with your lid. do not remove the lid after this.

3. cook on medium high for about 10 minutes *(don’t move away from the pot or you’ll forget-set a timer if you have to)*, then reduce heat to medium/low and cook for 50-60 minutes more without lifting the lid (lets the steam escape).

4. serve your rice with the chicken all around, drizzle all the juices on the rice, then top with your barberry mixture:
melt butter in a small sauce pan, then add cleaned barberries and either some cane brown sugar or the orange marmalade (mostly the syrup)-keep the heat on low as barberries can burn very easily. add saffron (diluting it with a few drops of warm water prior to adding). combine well, turn off the heat.




SHIRAZI SALAD:

combine together in a bowl (4-6 servings)

  • 6-7 peeled or un-peeled finely cubed organic persian cucumbers 
  • 3 medium cubed ripe tomatoes 
  • 3-4 sliced green onions (or 2 tsp finely minced red onion)
  • small bunch finely chopped flat leaf parsley 
  • 3-4 tbs lime juice (freshly squeezed) 
  • 2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil 
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper

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