Fragrant Persian Chicken Pilaff

This chicken biryani style pilaff is brought to you from Alastair Hendy's Home Cook
Fragrant Persian Chicken Pilaff
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 4
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes plus 2 hrs soaking time
  • Effort: medium


  • 400 g basmati rice
  • a thumbful strands saffron
  • 8 small chicken thighs
  • sunflower oil, or vegetable oil
  • butter
  • 12 cardamom pods, squashed
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • handful whole blanched almonds, or toasted pine nuts
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • handful large sultanas


1. Put the rice in a sieve, then stick it under a cold tap and give it a good rinse, gently shaking it about a bit. Tip it into a bowl and cover with cold water, then leave it to soak for a couple of hours, then strain again. Slip the rice into a pan of gently burbling water, add a dash of salt, cook for 4 minutes, then strain. The rice won't at all be cooked, should retain a little moisture and be quite damp for its next stage.

2. Meanwhile, pop the saffron (if using) in a dinky dish with 2 tbsp of warm water. Next, salt and pepper the chicken thighs, then gently fry them in a heavy saucepan or casserole in 2 tbsp of oil and a knob of butter, until they're gold all over. Then chunk in the spices and bay, and fry for a few more seconds or until fragrant. Lift out the chicken thighs and put them on a plate, leaving the spices in the pan. Stir in the almonds and onion into the spices and gently fry, adding a touch more oil, until the onion starts to caramelise. Remove from the heat, tip in the rice and sultanas, and turn everything through.

3. Next, bury the fried chicken deep into the rice - leaving a good layer of rice at the bottom of the pan - then level off the top and dribble over the saffron water or 2 tbsp water. No, you're not adding any water at this stage - so, no frets, nothing is missing from the recipe. Cover the pan with its lid, which should be nice, heavy and tight-fitting, so that everything beautifully steams inside. Then set over a minuscule heat - and I mean really, really low, for anything merely 'low' will end up burning the rice at the base of the pan. Leave to gently steam-cook for about 30 minutes. To serve, lift out the chicken, then stir a good knob of butter through the rice and pile into bowls or on to plates.

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