Zereshk Polo ba Morgh - Persian chicken with barberry rice the easy and healthy way


Zereshk polo ba morgh - Persian chicken with saffron and barberry rice

I say easy and healthy way, of course Iranian food is not particularly unhealthy to begin with, it's only the amount of white rice that disagrees with my glucose maintenance ideology, so the main health swap here is substituting white rice with brown. Iranian food is also not particularly fiddly or complicated, but I have seen some recipes with more steps than mine, so just as a disclaimer here, this might not be how your beloved Iranian grandmother used to make it, but I think it tastes pretty authentic having had some cooked by natives.

My favourite Persian rice is shivid polo, the one with dill. Obviously. Put dill in anything and I will love it. So I often serve this chicken with the dill rice instead of the traditional pairing of barberry rice, which would make this dish Shivid polo ba morgh.

I like posting my Persian exploits on my personal Facebook page. There is always this one Iranian "friend" who has an interesting comment to make. Like the first time I made Ghormeh Sabzi, the amazing herb stew, I was so proud and husband who knows his Persian food announced it tasted authentic and amazing, this friend's comment was " Don't even try it". What! Why? Because I'm Finnish I can't stew a few herbs with chunks of lamb but am eternally doomed to boiling potatoes and making coffee out of tree bark? I bet he doesn't know how to make coffee out of tree bark. Hah.

Tomato sauce for Zereshk polo ba morgh
The rich tomato sauce to be ladled over your chicken and rice
I also make awesome abgoosht, again husband who might not be my severest critic supports me on this one. So on one of my abgoosht images this friend commented "That is not Abgoosht" because we dared to eat it with rice instead of flatbread. Well my friend, you will find abgoosht actually translates as meat soup (or water & meat) in English, so even if I eat it with Karelian pies or haggis the stew itself is still bloody abgoosht.

I am always really excited if someone is interested in Finnish or Scandinavian cooking and tries a recipe, even if they make some adjustments or don't get it completely right. I think it's an honour that someone from a different food culture would like to try something of ours.

But luckily I don't care, although on the surface it might seem that I do since I'm whining about it here publicly. Either way I am determined to continue to delight husband with Middle-Eastern treats that remind him of his childhood and included some on our Christmas menu as well.

Just to clarify, Christmas for me lasts for two weeks, it started on Friday 20th December which was my last day at work and will continue until 5th Jan. That's why there has been a lot on the menu. I object to this British 1 day Christmas. It is cruel and doesn't make any sense.

So naturally I included things that I know that we both love, but also husband's favourites like lamb shanks. I also asked him if there was anything in particular that he would like me to cook for us during these two weeks. His answer was Chicken. That classic festive favourite. Oh well, the man loves his chicken. Simple homecooking, was another wish, which means no crazy experiments. Which to be fair to me I haven't done recently. Most of the food that I cook I know how to cook and it comes out pretty ok. Gone are the early days of tough or inedibly salty steaks and incinerated bilberry pies.

So the Zereshk polo ba morgh was my gesture of I'm hearing you dude and not just feeding you weird pickled Nordic things with scary looking wild mushrooms and juniper berries. I also made another batch of the lovely saffrony legs with dill rice and a Khoresht-e bademjan - a Persian chicken and eggplant stew. But still last night when I heated him a left over chicken leg with some shivid polo, after a very long and satisfied sigh after clearing the plate he said "you can cook this, but still you do all that other stuff".

I was of course very happy that he would love something I cooked so much, but also questioned if he could eat the same thing every night. He said not every night, but more frequently would be entirely possible. I feel we are not completely chronologically synchronised. I have proof (in my excel menu worksheet) that he has been given Persian chicken 3 times plus some leftovers in the last couple of weeks.

He does like my other food too, he complains about the amount of fish I try to get in him, because it's healthy, but every time I cook fish he really likes it He just has a very special relationship with chicken which as a loving wife I fully support and respect.

Zereshk polo ba morgh - Persian chicken with saffron and barberry rice
A clever reader may notice that these are not barberries at all, they are cranberries, My barberries had expired in a very dramatic way growing some weird black stuff around them. I thought it is Christmas after all so dried cranberries are an appropriate substitute.

Persian saffron chicken with rice

Saffron water:
A good pinch of saffron fronds
4 tbsp boiling water

Vegetable oil
800g -1 kg bone-in chicken legs
Black pepper
1 tbsp saffron water

Vegetable oil
1 brown onion - chopped
1 bell pepper - chopped
2 carrots - chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp of saffron water
Black pepper
3 tbsp of tomato paste
1 1/2 cup of low salt chicken broth

2 tbsp barberries
1 tbsp water
pinch of sugar
1 tbsp of saffron water

2 cups of white or brown rice
Plenty of water, amount depends on whether you use a rice cooker or not
1 tbsp saffron water

Grind the saffron fronds in pestle and mortar and add 4 tbsp of hot water from the kettle on top. Leave to one side.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Rub the seasoning all over the chicken pieces including rubbing it between the skin and the meat.

Chop the onion, carrot and bell pepper.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chicken on the pan skin side down. Cook on medium heat turning around a few times until it is nicely browned on both sides. Once you are happy with the colour of the chicken flip all the pieces skins side down on the pan and add one tbsp of the saffron water. Tilt the pan and make sure all of the chicken pieces get a nice colour from the saffron, turn the pieces around to get the saffron colour on that side as well.

Remove the chicken onto a plate. Add some oil in the pan if necessary and add the onion, bell pepper and carrot on the pan. Fry on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric to the pan and mix well.  Add a tbsp of the saffron liquid. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for another minute or two. Add the chicken stock, bring to boil and season to taste.

Pour the vegetable and tomato sauce mix in an oven proof dish. Place the chicken on top. Cover the dish and place in a 200C oven for 35-45 minutes depending on the size of you chicken legs. You can also cook this on the stove, I just find it easier in the oven. You can baste the chicken with a sauce a couple of times. Remove the lid for the last 5-10 minutes of the cooking.

While the chicken is cooking prepare you rice. Please refer to this recipe in how to cook Persian rice. Nowadays we always do brown rice using a rice cooker, it just needs a bit more water and takes longer to cook than white rice.

To prepare the barberries, just mix the ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes.

Once your chicken is cooked remove the pieces on a serving dish and keep warm. Sieve the tomato sauce into a separate bowl pushing the vegetables against the sieve with a spoon to get most of the tasty sauce out. Discard the vegetables.

When you rice is ready take half a cup of the cooked rice and mix it with the remaining saffron water. Spread the rest of the rice on a serving platter and place the yellow saffron rice on top. Sprinkle the barberries on top.

Serve with a nice fresh fattoush or shirazi salad.

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