Istanbul, not Constantinople: Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaf

If you haven't noticed by now, I love Nigella Lawson's recipes. When piled up on a giant platter, this delicious rice dish evokes the experience of dining cross-legged on a carpeted floor somewhere in Turkey. (No, this is not authentically Turkish/Middle Eastern. Just authentically yummy.) When I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it because it combined so many of my favourite ingredients: basmati rice, pine nuts, almonds, and saffron. I added a handful of raisins to the rice because I love how they plump up and sweeten the rice.

This is a very aromatic dish. The warmth of the spices in the chicken and the rice mingle with the buttery nuttiness of toasted nuts and the fresh resinousness of cilantro. It made me hungry just smelling it.

I have not tried marinating chicken in yogurt before making this, and I must say that it really works. The yogurt tenderizes the chicken and keeps it moist while cooking, and its natural sugars caramelize in the pan without the use of excessive oil.

If you'd like to take an express mid-week vacation, here's the recipe for:

Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaf:

500 g boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
200g Greek yogurt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 L chicken broth
15 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
500 g basmati rice
(A handful of raisins, optional)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
50 g flaked almonds, toasted
25 g pine nuts, toasted
Large handful of cilantro, chopped

1.Marinate the chicken pieces in the yoghurt, lemon and cinnamon for about an hour. Soak the saffron threads in the chicken stock.
2.Over medium heat, in a large pan with a lid, melt the butter along with 1 tablespoon oil and add the rice, stirring it to coat until glossy. Pour in the saffron and chicken stock, add the cardamom pods, lemon juice and zest and raisins and bring the pan to the boil, then clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to very low; a heat diffuser, if you’ve got one, would be good here. Cook like this for about 10–15 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed the liquid and be cooked through.
3.While the rice is cooking, shake the excess yoghurt marinade off the chicken using a sieve. Then fry the meat in a hot pan with the remaining spoonful or so of oil, and do this in batches so that the chicken colours rather than just pallidly stews to cookedness.
4.Use a fork to fluff up the rice. Add toasted nuts to pilaf and a strew chicken and cilantro over the top.

Serves 6.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson-Forever Summer

Image property of beets and bites

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