Saffron roast chicken stuffed with dried fruit
- June 2023
- Serves 6
- Hands-on time 50 min, plus soaking and overnight marinating. Oven time 1 hour 20 min
“Properly stuffed, saffron roast chicken on an Iranian table still holds some prestige and elegance. The roast chicken is the golden centrepiece of a lavish spread for a gathering, next to trays of rice – of at least two kinds, one simple, perhaps another with broad beans and dill – and possibly lamb stew with courgette or aubergine,” food writer and photographer Saghar Setareh.
Recipe taken from Pomegranates + Artichokes: Recipes and memories of a journey from Iran to Italy by Saghar Setareh (Murdoch Books, £26).
Leftover chicken? Try it in this comforting saffron chicken stew
- 55g (20g saturated)
- 35g (32g sugars)
- 1.8kg free-range chicken
- 1½ tbsp salt
- 1 lemon, halved
For the onions
- Vegetable oil to deep-fry
- 2 onions, halved and sliced into 5mm half-moons
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
For the saffron infusion and butter
- 1 tsp saffron threads, very loosely packed
- 2 large pinches sugar
- 100g unsalted butter
- 1½ tsp salt
For the stuffing
- 200g prunes, pitted
- 100g dried apricots, halved
- 100g dried barberries or cranberries
- 30g unsalted butter
- 80g walnuts, roughly chopped
- 50g golden sultanas (optional)
- 1 tsp sugar (if using barberries)
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need
- Butcher’s twine
- The day before you plan to serve, pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Rub the salt on the chicken skin and inside the cavity, then squeeze the lemon juice into the cavity and put the squeezed halves inside. Leave uncovered in the fridge overnight.
- You can make the golden onions in advance too. Fill a medium saucepan with oil (no more than two thirds full) and put over a medium-high heat. Make sure the half-moons of onion are all separated; when tiny bubbles appear in the oil, add a slice of onion to check the heat. If the oil around the onion bubbles and the onion comes to the surface, the oil is hot enough; otherwise, wait until this happens.
- Fry the onions in 2-3 batches for about 8-12 minutes, or until the onion has shrunk down and is completely golden. When the first batch of onions are golden, add the turmeric to the oil and give it a stir. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon onto a large plate lined with kitchen paper. When all the onions are cooked, transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge until needed.
- To make the saffron infusion, grind the saffron and sugar together in a pestle and mortar, then transfer to a heatproof bowl. Boil the kettle, let it sit for a few minutes, then pour 6 tbsp hot water over the saffron. Cover the bowl and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.
- 2 hours before cooking, bring the chicken out of the fridge so it can come to room temperature. Discard the lemon. For the stuffing, soak the prunes, apricots and cranberries in separate bowls of water for 15-30 minutes. If you’re using barberries, just give them a rinse.
- Melt most of the butter in a saucepan, then drain the fruit (except the barberries, if using) and add to the pan with the walnuts and sultanas (if using). Cook over a gentle heat for a few minutes. If you’re using barberries, melt the remaining butter in a separate pan, add the barberries and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, then add the sugar and keep stirring until it dissolves. Add the barberries to the rest of the fruit.
- Add the golden onions, 2 tbsp of the saffron infusion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Heat the oven to 200°C fan/gas 7. For the saffron butter, melt the butter and mix well with 3 tbsp of the saffron infusion and the salt.
- Use a sharp knife to score 3 deep incisions in the chicken legs. With the chicken legs facing you, gently pull the skin at the end of the breast towards you with one hand, then insert 2 fingers of the other hand between the breast and skin. Repeat this carefully and gently, as much as you can, to separate the skin from the meat without tearing it.
- Fill the cavity with about half the stuffing, reserving the rest for serving. Tie the chicken legs together with twine and put it in a baking dish. Using a pastry brush, rub as much of the saffron butter as you can on all sides of the chicken and under the skin.
- Transfer to the oven and roast for 1 hour 20 minutes, brushing the chicken with more saffron butter every 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked through, leave to rest for at least 30 minutes. To serve, strain the juices at the bottom of the pan and add around 60ml of them to the remaining stuffing, heating it through. Pour any remaining juices into a gravy boat to serve alongside the chicken.
Don’t waste it: You can keep the oil used to fry the onions for up to a week to use in dishes where a hint of onion and turmeric would be welcome.
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