Khoresh-e portaqal

Khoresh means stew in Farsi. Stew isn't a particularly evocative or exotic word, is it? It presents an image of hearty, dependable food; something served in the dead of winter when the nights are long and cold, and the days not much warmer. Stews are not inspiring in their colour and neither are they delicately fragranced. They rely on cheap cuts of meat and whatever vegetables are to hand. But when I hear the word khoresh I'm transported to the world of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, conjuring pictures of vast banquets held in domed palaces, marvellously spiced food served on jewelled platters, and entertainment provided by dancers veiled in vibrantly coloured gauzes. The irony is, of course, that to a Persian cook a khoresh is just a stew that uses the cheapest cut of meat available and vegetables and fruits that are in season. Still, for the few hours that I'm cooking this, I can drift over the Middle East on spiced orange thoughts.

I first came across this recipe in Evelyn Rose's Complete International Jewish Cook Book. Evelyn Rose was the daughter of Russian immigrant parents, and the grand dame of British Jewish cooking for fifty years until her death in 2003. I've always had the impression that she regarded Sephardi cooking with a slight sense of derision, as if it were utterly peculiar and loathsomely complicated, and she has to be one of the most prescriptive cookery writers I've read. Rather than just writing 'salt and pepper' on her ingredients list, she'll give you an exact measure of salt and tell you how many grinds of black pepper to include. This is entirely contrary to my exhortation that recipes are guides, not prescriptions, so this is my rather loose interpretation of her recipe. She claims that it was an adaptation of a medieval Persian recipe, so how far I've veered from authenticity is anybody's guess, but when I eat this, I really don't care.

A khoresh will traditionally be served with chello rice - basmati rice that has been cooked slowly and scented with saffron. I'll admit to not indulging in the long cooking process for the rice, but I do add the saffron. As khoresh is a dish that reheats well it is ideal for dinner parties or buffet meals when expecting lots of guests. The flavour's certain improve with maturation. That's if you can bear to wait!

Ingredients, for four


Heat a large flameproof casserole. In it, seal the chicken portions so that all externally visible meat is white. I do this over a slow flame, so that some of the fat can cook out. When the meat is sealed, remove it to a plate. Then add the onions and fry gently in the fat. If you prefer, you can drain off the chicken fat and fry the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil.

When the onions are a soft golden colour, which should take five minutes or so on a gentle flame, return the chicken to the pan and sprinkle over the paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Stir things about and allow the spices to cook through for two or three minutes. Then pour over the chicken stock and orange juice, cover, and allow the dish to simmer gently for around 30 minutes.

Whilst the chicken is cooking, take the segmented oranges and place in a small pan with the vinegar, sugar, and dissolved saffron. Set over a slow-medium flame and allow to bubble and reduce to a syrup. This will probably take twenty minutes. Remember to stir occasionally to prevent the sugars from sticking and burning. When the oranges have transformed into a luscious syrup, tip it over the chicken and stir. At this point, I'd leave the dish uncovered, increase the flame slightly and allow the sauce to reduce a little for the remaining cooking time, which would be ten minutes or so.

You can serve this immediately, sprinkled with pistachios and almonds, and with rice, or reheat later, when you're ready to savour its glorious combination of flavours.