This is one of my mother
's old favourites, a real taste of home that I have never tried to cook before last weekend. Due to some unforseen circumstances
I had to change one of the major ingredients, which personalises this recipe enough to qualify for noding as "mine".
First off, there is no saffron in this recipe, it's actually turmeric. Turmeric is much cheaper than saffron, has a lovely, evocatively Eastern aroma, and no nasty bitter aftertaste. It's also a lot less fiddly to handle as you don't need to count fronds, soak them in water etc. etc. blah blah blah. I'm not a fan of saffron in general, in case you haven't noticed.
Secondly, this is one of these recipes that has an optimal swank for work ratio. For years I was too intimidated to try it (my mother is a literally awesome cook), only to discover that it's actually nothing special in terms of technique. So try it, especially if you have guests to impress, because it looks positively regal on the plate and takes only about an hour and a half of not very fiddly work to make.
So, to feed about 6 people you will need:
- 1 large organic (or at least free range) chicken, portioned
- 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 200gr dried apricots or 350gr unpitted prunes (my mom uses prunes, I was stuck with apricots: both are lovely; you might even want to try and combine them)
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- Salt & pepper
- A little hot water if needed
- 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil (i.e. not olive) or butter
- Place a large, heavy casserole on a medium heat until warm through. Put the chicken pieces inside, season well and cover with a tight fitting lid. The chicken should cook in its own juices - lower the heat slightly when you hear it begin to sizzle vigorously. Leave for approx. 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter or heat the oil in a large frying pan and start slowly frying the onions. They need to be meltingly soft and sweet, but not brown. When ready, sprinkle with half a teaspoon of the ground turmeric, mix well and take off the heat.
- Transfer the chicken onto a plate. Now, at this stage, if you want to really show off, strain the liquid inside the pot through a fine sieve, although I myself didn't bother and it was fine. Start putting things back in the pot in layers: a layer of chicken, sprinkled with half the onions, scattered with the fruit and finished with a thin layer of turmeric. About 2 layers should do it - if you have a narrow pot and more layers, the bits at the bottom might get skwooshed.
- Pour the liquid over the dish, add a little water if you feel it's necessary (I know this sounds vague, but trust me, you'll know) and place, covered, over a low heat for about one to one and a half hours.
- Traditionally this is an accompaniment to pilau rice from Azerbaijan, however I served it with plain couscous steamed in a bit of lamb stock, and the combination was heavenly. Be careful when you dish out, the chicken will be literally falling off the bones. Make sure everyone has at least one piece of luscious fruit goodness and plenty of golden onions and juice. Yum.