Persian Chicken Stew
It is no secret that I’ve been at a real standstill in the kitchen lately. It isn’t just culinary inspiration that’s been lacking, but the writerly inspiration, too. Even when I do cook something fantastic, I can’t seem to find anything interesting to say about it. For example, this stew. It’s great. It’s full of unique flavors, and I got to use some new ingredients, and I found all kinds of delicious things to do with the leftovers. And I’ve been trying now for weeks to sit down and say something that would make you all want to rush into your kitchens to get cooking. How am I doing?
Yeah, not that great. But no matter! The best cure for writer’s block is just to sit down and write, right? And it seems unfair for me to keep this to myself, just because my brain seems to be on vacation.
This very awesome stew is from the January issue of Food + Wine. They wrote a great feature that will keep the January issue on my coffee table all year: They pulled together a list of recipes and other fun food-related tidbits for every month of 2011. And I intend to try to cook everything in it, in the hopes that it might help kickstart some of my cooking mojo. I got off to a slow start with the Duck Tacos they wrote about for January, because I can’t find duck anywhere in my small town. But chicken, well, anyone can find that.
Of course, there were a few things I couldn’t find in this recipe, so I had to adapt here and there. But it turned out exceptionally well. The chicken is moist and full of sweet flavor. The walnuts add excellent crunch. I substituted dried cherries for the raisins, and loved the juiciness and bright flavor. And instead of keeping the chicken pieces whole (they were very, very large), I shredded the chicken and stirred it back into the pot. Some of the shredded chicken I set aside for chicken salad, which was excellent. I served the chicken stew over couscous mixed with a bit of sauteed spinach and olives, but it would be great over rice, too, or polenta.
This was also my first attempt at taking apart a whole chicken. It would have been easier with poultry shears, and maybe a sharper knife. But I am very pleased at myself for even undertaking the project in the first place (even though I didn’t really have a choice, what with the supermarket having only huge packages of boneless chicken breasts or whole chickens). If you’ve never done this before, Saveur offers a great step-by-step guide with pictures.
Persian Chicken Stew
Adapted from Food + Wine magazine
- 1 whole chicken, cut into six or eight pieces
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1/3 cup dried cherries
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups of chicken stock (I actually used beef, because it’s what I had)
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 teaspoon coriander (The recipe called for cardamom; I didn’t have it. Oops.)
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice (no whole allspice berries for me; I live in the middle of nowhere.)
- 1 small preserved lemon, chopped OR 1 three-inch piece of lime zest (I used the lemon because I had it and I wanted to try it, but the recipe calls for dried lime or lime zest)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the saffron strands in a small bowl with a quarter cup of lukewarm water and let them sit while you start the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a large oven-proof pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken pieces and cook for a few minutes on each side, until they are well browned. Set the chicken pieces on a plate and repeat with the rest of the chicken. Set the chicken aside and return the pot the the stove.
Add the onion, smashed garlic, cherries, and walnuts to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden. Add the saffron water, the stock, pomegranate juice, and the spices. Bring the mixture to a boil. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, along with any reserved juices from the chicken plate.
Cover the pot and braise the chicken in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the breasts are cooked through. Transfer the breasts to a bowl and cover with foil, and return the pot to the oven for an additional 15 minutes to finish cooking the thighs. Once they are done, remove the remaining chicken pieces to the bowl with the breasts, and keep covered.
Put the pot back on the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook it down until it’s reduced to about a cup, or is as thick as you like. Add the red wine vinegar, and season to taste. Now you can either return the whole chicken pieces to the dish and simmer them until they are warmed, or you can shred the chicken and return it to the pot. Serve the chicken and the sauce over couscous or rice, and garnish with orange slices (the clementines were perfect).
I stirred some chopped up kalamata olives into my couscous, and the extra saltiness was excellent with this kind of sweet chicken dish. You might want to stir some chopped up olives into the stew itself, if you want to eat it on its own.
My kitchen energy is slowly coming back; let’s hope the sitting-down-and-writing energy makes its return soon, too. 2011 so far has been full of stress and uncertainty, and there is a chance there are going to be some major changes coming down the pipeline this year. But I will try not to let that keep me away from my loyal readers. Thanks for sticking around through my prolonged absences. Knowing you’re all out there waiting is a big inspiration in itself.