On Purim, honor the heroism of Queen Esther, the biblical queen of Persia, by serving this feast-worthy rice and chicken dish inspired by Persian cuisine. The rice is scented with saffron and threaded through with dried fruit, orange zest and tender pieces of spiced chicken. A golden layer of tahdig (crispy Persian rice) crowns the dish for a truly regal effect.
Persian-Inspired Chicken and Rice With Dried Fruit
- 1 big pinch saffron threads, crumbled
- ⅓ cup boiling water
- 2 medium onions, halved through the root and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
- ⅓ cup dried cherries or cranberries, roughly chopped if large
- ⅓ cup golden raisins
- ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup toasted sliced, slivered or roughly chopped whole almonds, optional
- Stir together the saffron and boiling water in a small bowl and set aside until needed.
- Add the onions and garlic to the bottom of a large saucepan. Layer the chicken pieces on top of the onions and evenly sprinkle with the cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and generous amount of salt and pepper. Add ½ cup water and set the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium, cover pan and cook until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Remove chicken pieces from the saucepan (reserve the onions and garlic) and let cool to the touch. Using your hands, remove the meat and shred into large (about 1½-inch) pieces. Set aside.
- While the chicken is cooking, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until halfway tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well and let cool slightly. Transfer one-third of the par-boiled rice to a bowl and set aside. Transfer the remaining two-thirds of the rice to a second bowl and stir in the cherries, raisins, orange zest, reserved onions and garlic (they will be soft and almost pasty) and ½ teaspoon salt.
- Assemble the dish: Wash and thoroughly dry the saucepan the rice was cooked in. Add the vegetable oil and heat over medium until shimmering. Spread the plain, par-boiled rice evenly across the bottom, gently packing it down with the back of a spoon. (It should sizzle when you add it.) Cover with half the chicken pieces, followed by half the rice and dried fruit mixture. Repeat with a second layer of chicken, followed by the remaining rice and dried fruit. Let cook, undisturbed, until fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Using the back of a thin wooden spoon or chopstick, poke several deep holes into the rice to help steam escape as it cooks. Drizzle the saffron-water mixture evenly over rice. Cover saucepan, reduce heat to low and cook for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest, still covered, for 10 minutes.
- To serve: Spoon the rice, chicken and dried fruit into a wide serving bowl (avoiding the bottom of the pot) and gently mix to combine. Use a spatula to carefully remove the bottom crust of rice and place it on top. (It’s OK if it breaks into multiple pieces.) Serve hot, sprinkled with the toasted almonds, if using.