Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom

Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom

Reza’s Indian Spice

Royal chickens destined for Indian palace tables were massaged with musk oil and sandalwood and fed on pellets infused with saffron and rose water, so the flavours permeated the flesh of the birds. Our more humble chickens – lacking the spa treatment – haven’t had that kind of life, but the rule that what goes in must come out still applies, so do buy the best bird you can afford. I have included black cumin in this recipe. If you can’t find any, just use normal cumin. Black cumin is also known as shahi jeera, similar looking to caraway seeds, and thinner, darker and slightly sweeter than normal cumin. It really does enhance this dish, so if you happen to come across it, snap it up. It is so important when you fry onions – and especially in this dish – that you don’t hurry them. Fry them until properly sweet and gilded and don’t go too quickly; we’re not looking for scorched, still-raw, ‘hot dog’ onions! It can take more time than you’d think but, to get ahead, organised people can fry a big batch, drain them until very dry indeed and store in an airtight container, to add to all sorts of dishes. They will keep for up to a week.


Quantity Ingredient
4-6 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
4 large onions, finely sliced
1.7kg chicken, skinned and jointed into 8
6-8 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon grated root ginger
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
250g yogurt
120ml single cream
12-15 green cardamom pods, ground, seeds
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
1 tablespoon toasted flaked almonds


  1. Heat the ghee or oil in a wide, heavy-based pan and fry the onions until they turn a deep golden brown. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. When cool, blend them coarsely in a food processor. Set aside.
  2. Fry the chicken pieces in the same fat over a medium-high heat to seal in the juices. Reduce the heat slightly and add the garlic and ginger. Fry for a minute, then add the chilli powder, black cumin and pepper, and sauté well. Lightly whisk the yogurt, cream and salt to taste with half the ground cardamom and pour over the chicken. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 20–25 minutes, until tender.
  3. In the meantime, lightly toast the saffron threads over a low heat, then crumble them over the blended fried onions along with the remaining cardamom. Stir this mixture into the chicken and simmer for a further minute or so. Finish off with the lime juice, coriander and almonds.
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