Chicken stew with quince, sour plums and apricots
This khoresh (stew) is not as well-known as other stews from Iran such as Ghormeh Sabzi (lamb stew with herbs and dried limes) or Fesenjoon (chicken stew with pomegranate molasses and walnuts). This is probably due to the hero ingredient of the stew – quince.
Quince is in season between October and January in the UK and during these months I suspect most Iranian households (like my family) will try to cook this dish a few times before the season ends.
Many of you may be familiar with quince being used to flavour gin, eaten as a paste with cheese or made into jam. For those of you new to quince, let me tell you about this lovely fruit. It is a member of the apple and pear family. It has a yellow, lumpy hard flesh with a bitter flavour when raw. Due to the unpalatable flavour when raw, quince is generally consumed after cooking. When cooked, quince becomes soft and dense and develops a sweet, slightly tart flavour with hints of apple, pear, and citrus. Quince can last up to several weeks if stored in a fridge.
The best quince is grown in Esfahan in Iran and unsurprisingly the dish originates from this beautiful city. There are a few variations of this khoresh with some cooking it with lamb; using tomato purée; adding lentils. The recipe I have shared below results in a sweet and sour stunning golden stew, an unusual colour by comparison to the other stews we Iranians cook.
I use chicken in my version and cook the stew with dried apricots and dried bukhara sour plums, which add to the sweet and sour notes brought by the quince.
As with most of my recipes for khoresh using chicken, I recommend using skinless chicken thighs on the bone. Another option is to use a whole chicken by quartering it and removing the skin.
I fry the quince separately first to caramelise it which adds a little variation to the stew’s colour. Dried apricots are easily found in supermarkets but the dried sour plums will require a trip to your local Middle-Eastern / Asian food shop or can be bought online. Iranians cook the sour plums with the stones in and just pop them out while eating. Be careful with children to remove them before serving them their portion. You will also need turmeric and saffron which gives the khoresh it’s lovely golden colour.
I also add a little corn flour to thicken my stew, which is not a step we Iranians take for our stews. I wanted more of a gravy-type sauce for this stew and my experiment worked wonderfully. But do feel free to leave this step out.
This dish is delightfully easy to cook with minimal preparation. The final dish is comforting and loved by adults and children alike, so it is a great family recipe. Serve this khoresh with Chelow (Persian steamed rice) and Salad Shirazi. Alternatively serve it with a parsley mash and steamed green vegetables or just eat it with crusty bread.
Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo
- 1 tbsp butter or ghee
- 2 medium quince (halved, sliced 1.5 inch thick and with core taken out)
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 chicken thighs or a whole large chicken (approx. 2 kg - quartered) (on the bone, skin removed)
- 1 onion (finely diced)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
- 500 ml water
- 1 heaped tsp corn flour (dissolved in 1 tsp of cold water)
- 3 tbsp honey
- 15 small dried apricots (soaked in hot water overnight)
- 20 dried bukhara sour plums (soaked in hot water overnight)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Take a frying pan, add the butter and place on a medium / high heat. Once the butter has melted, fry the quince until they caramelise on each side. Place them on a plate and put to one side.
- Season the chicken. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the same frying pan and seal the chicken by frying for a few minutes on each side. Once sealed, place on a plate and put to one side.
- Take a large casserole dish with a lid (minimum 3.5 litre capacity). Add 2 tbsp of oil and place on a medium / high heat. Then add the diced onions and fry until translucent.
- Add the turmeric and stir until evenly distributed.
- Add the water and the bloomed saffron. Then add the corn flour paste. Season the sauce to taste.
- Drain the apricots and sour plums from the water they have soaked in and add to the pan with the honey. Stir gently and distribute the fruit evenly across the pan.
- Arrange the chicken and the quince in the saucepan. Quince cooks very quickly and can be quite mushy so arrange the quince so it partially rests on the thighs. Once the liquid starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and place the lid on the pan. Let the stew simmer for 40 mins to an 1 hr. Prior to serving, taste the stew and season further if required.