Persian Chelo with Chicken

Spring 2015
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food and drink

BY: Lucy Waverman

A spectacular Iranian dish of rice and chicken baked together on top of the stove to give a crisp crust and soft filling. Long-grain rice such as basmati is a staple, and Iranian cook shave made rice preparation into an art form. They serve it as a side dish with kebabs or as a main course with vegetables and spices. You can serve the rice and filling separately without doing the final baking. Whatever you decide, this is a magnificent feast.

RICE
⅓ cup (80 mL) butter
1 cup (250 mL) chopped onions
1 tsp (5 mL) ground allspice
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
½ tsp (2 mL) ground black pepper
Salt
2 cups (500 mL) basmati rice, rinsed
3 cups (750 mL) water

CHICKEN
¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil
2 cups (500 mL) chopped onions
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped garlic
1 tbsp (15 mL) cinnamon
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground cumin
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground coriander
1 tsp (5 mL) cayenne pepper
2 tsp (10 mL) turmeric
2 lbs (1 kg) skinless boneless chicken thighs, diced in 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup (250 mL) chopped canned tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
6 cups (1.5 L) packed spinach, washed, stemmed and sliced
¾ cup (175 mL) raisins
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh mint

GARNISH
2 tbsp (30 mL) toasted chopped pistachios
2 tbsp (30 mL) sliced candied orange peel(optional)

1 Melt 3 tbsp (45 mL) butter in heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes or until softened. Add allspice, cinnamon and black pepper. Season with salt. Cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add rice and water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and steam for 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly al dente. Remove from heat and spread rice on a baking sheet to cool. Season with more salt if needed.

2 Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Add remaining oil and stir in garlic, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and turmeric, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and sauté for 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add tomatoes and stock and bring to boil.

3 Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce is thick and chicken is no longer pink. Add spinach and raisins and cook for 2 more minutes or until spinach wilts. Stir in mint. Taste for seasoning and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

4 Melt remaining butter in a 10-inch (25-cm) nonstick skillet over medium heat until butter is foamy. Remove and reserve 2 tbsp (30 mL) of melted butter. Remove pan from heat and add half of rice, spreading it evenly over base of skillet. Use a spatula to compress it slightly. Spoon chicken mixture over the rice in an even layer. Finish with remaining rice, again compressing with a spatula. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a hole down through the centre of the mixture to let steam escape. Drizzle with reserved melted butter.

5 Cover and cook over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes or until rice has formed a golden crust on the bottom. Watch so it does not get too dark. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to loosen sides. Reverse pan onto a large serving plate so the golden bottom crust is on top.

6 Break up mixture with a spoon. Garnish with pistachios and candied orange.

Serves 6