Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's Persian New Year- Norouz! Celebrate with Persian Chicken

This dish is worth making just so you can enjoy the wonderful odors wafting through the kitchen: pomegranate, raisins, chicken all simmering happily in the oven...

In Vancouver, I met a wonderful Persian lady named Blossom.  She loves to sew and she especially loves to cook Persian food.  So, if you are lucky enough to have her as your sewing teacher every second Saturday, you will also be lucky enough to enjoy a Persian lunch.  Wonderful food...  I especially like the spices, fruit and nuts they add to their dishes: cinnamon, walnuts, pomegranate, raisins, dried apricots...

As the Persians are celebrating their New Year next week (March 21), I thought a Persian dish would be timely.  Blossom, this one's for you!
Persian Chicken with couscous
 To serve 4...
1     4-lb chicken, quartered, backbone and neck reserved (or a mix of breasts and thighs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2     tbsp olive oil
1     onion, cut into small dice
3     garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4  cup raisins
1     cup chopped walnuts
pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1/4 cup water
2     cups chicken broth
1     cup pomegranate juice (I used pomegranate syrup from the Mediterranean store, 1/2 juice, 1/2 water)
3     cardamom pods, lightly crushed
4     allspice berries
1     3-inch piece lime zest (better still, 1 dried lime, available at Middle Eastern markets)
1     2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2  tbsp red wine vinegar
Couscous, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper in a large casserole.  Heat the oil.  Add half the chicken along with the backbone and neck and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about four minutes per side.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining pieces.

Pour off all but two tablespoons of the fat in the casserole.  Add the onion, garlic, raisins and chopped walnuts to the casserole and cook over moderately heat, stirring occasionally until the onion is softened and golden brown, about seven minutes.  Add the saffron water, chicken broth, pomegranate juice, cardamom, allspice, lime and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil over moderately high heat.  Return the chicken pieces to the casserole, skin side up, along with any accumulated juices.  Cover and braise the chicken in the oven for about 35 minutes, until the breasts are cooked through.

Transfer the chicken breasts to a medium bowl and keep warm. Continue braising the dark meat pieces for about 15 minutes, until the legs are cooked through, then transfer the legs to the bowl.  Discard the chicken back and neck.

Boil the braising liquid over high heat until it is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes.  Discard the lime, cardamom, allspice and cinnamon stick.  Add the red wine vinegar and season the sauce with salt and pepper.  Return the chicken pieces to the sauce and simmer them gently until they are heated through, about three minutes.  Transfer the chicken to serving bowls/plates and serve with couscous.

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