I must confess that this baked chicken is not a traditional Persian dish but rather my own invention. When I’m cooking a Persian meal for a large crowd I like to serve a variety of Khoresht (meat based stews) along with Persian steamed basmati rice and I often feel that a poultry dish of some description would be a nice addition to round out the meal, which is how this recipe came about. Whilst this baked chicken may not be traditional it does combine all my favourite Persian flavours like saffron, turmeric, onions, and barberries. It’s very flavourful and incredibly easy to throw together. I like to bake the chicken at a low temperature for a long time. To get the perfect result of tender chicken and crispy skin I cook the chicken covered for most of the cooking time and then uncovered, at a higher temperature, towards the end which allows the skin to get nice and crisp. Cooking the chicken in this manner means that not only is the chicken fork tender but the sauce also has time to become wonderfully reduced and flavoursome. Barberries are small Persian berries with a sweet and sour flavour and a fabulous jewel red colour. You can find them at Middle-Eastern or Persian grocers as well as on-line. It’s hard to replicate their flavour but dried cranberries would be the closest substitute.
Ingredients – Serves 4 -6
4 Chicken Marylands (chicken legs with the drumstick and thigh attached)
Salt & Pepper
Neutral flavoured vegetable oil
3 large red onions, sliced
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
½ inch piece of ginger, finely sliced into match sticks
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
3 medium size tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup warm chicken stock
Large pinch of saffron
½ cup barberries
2 tablespoons honey, divided
Juice of 1 large lemon
½ teaspoon sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 160C. In a large oven proof baking dish (I use a shallow Le Creuset) heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium heat and when hot add the onions along with a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another couple of minutes. In a small bowl combine all the dry spices, other than the saffron. Add half the spice mixture to the onions, stir well and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and one tablespoon of the honey and cook until the tomatoes have softened a little, about 5 minutes.
While the tomatoes are softening, place the saffron into the warm chicken stock and allow it to infuse then add it to the tomatoes in the pan. Bring to the boil then turn off the heat and add half the lemon juice and half the barberries, some salt and pepper and stir to combine. Place the chicken on a plate and season the chicken well with salt and pepper. Add the remaining spice mixture, the rest of the honey and lemon juice as well as 1 tablespoon of oil to the chicken pieces and massage it all well onto all sides of the chicken, then place the pieces skin side up in the baking pan, nestling them in the sauce but making sure that most of the skin is exposed.
Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid or foil, place in the oven and cook for 2 hours. After this time remove the lid/foil and raise the temperature to 200C and cook for a further 30 minutes. Whilst the chicken is cooking heat a tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over gentle heat. Add the remaining barberries and ½ teaspoon of sugar and cook until the sugar has melted and the barberries and glistening and warm. Remove the chicken from the oven and sprinkle over the sautéed barberries. Serve straight from the pan with steamed rice or cous cous.