Slow cooked chicken thighs with fennel, oranges & barberries
This dish is inspired by two Persian dishes – the traditional saffron chicken we cook to accompany a few of our rice dishes, and Khoresh Porteghal (chicken and orange stew). My recipe below sees the addition of fennel and barberries to the traditional recipes. From December to May, I also swap in blood oranges, which are in season during these months, and the picture above is the blood orange version.
It is surprisingly low effort and an incredibly satisfying accompaniment to a number of Iranian rice dishes. The chicken is slow-cooked so the meat falls off the bone, which is a requirement for us Iranians as we eat most of our dishes with a spoon and a fork (the spoon helps to shovel the rice in) – no knife needed for the chicken here! The oranges provide a sweetness to the dish balanced out with the tartness of the barberries. The cooked orange peel is not bitter and adds a musky depth to the casserole with a marmalade like jamminess to each bite.
I often knock up this dish as it is so simple and serve it with a crunchy citrus-dressed salad, pickles (torshi) or a side of fresh herbs (a mix of coriander, mint, Thai basil, parsley and chives) and Persian steamed rice – chelow. If you want an even quicker rice accompaniment then serve it with kateh (Persian rice cooked the easy way). But you don’t just have to resign this to a dish eaten with rice, you can serve it with buttery mashed potatoes and a side of green vegetables or pasta.
Other than saffron, advieh (Persian mixed spice made with nutmeg, rose petals, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper) and the dried barberries, all the other ingredients are easy to source from your local supermarket if not already inhabiting your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. You can order saffron, advieh and dried barberries online or buy it from your local Middle-Eastern food shop. Remember to grind the saffron strands into a powder to make sure you get more bang for your buck.
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 kg chicken thighs (skin on / bone in)
- 1 medium brown onion (halved and finely sliced)
- 4 garlic cloves (crushed or minced)
- 1 large carrot (about 150g - cut into 2 inch batons)
- 2 small fennel bulbs (halved and medium sliced)
- 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp advieh (Persian mixed spice)
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 600 ml of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 medium oranges (1 to juice and 2 sliced for the casserole itself)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Juice of a fresh lemon
- 2 tbsp dried barberries
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Pre-heat oven to 140°C (fan oven) / 160°C (conventional) / gas mark 3.
- Heat a large shallow casserole pan or saucepan with a lid over medium/high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. Season chicken thighs on both sides and then place the chicken in the pan skin down and fry until golden brown. Then flip the chicken and fry for a few minutes on the other side. You are simply crisping the skin and sealing in the flavours. The chicken will cook through in the later steps of the recipe. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- Add onion to the pan and cook until golden (the chicken would have released oil so use this instead of adding more oil). Add garlic and stir to release aromas. Add turmeric and stir in until the onion and garlic mixture is evenly coated.
- Add carrots, fennel and follow with the advieh and stir until evenly mixed. Add flour and stir to coat the mixture. Add the tomato purée and stir in.
- Add the stock with the bloomed saffron, the juice of 1 orange and the juice of a lemon. Stir until everything is evenly combined. Place the cinnamon stick and bay leaf in the mixture.
- Place the chicken thighs into the pan so that they are 3/4 submerged. Add the sliced 2 remaining oranges and arrange so that they are part laying on the chicken thighs and part submerged in the casserole gravy.
- Put the lid on the pan and place into the preheated oven to cook for 3 hours. Halfway through cooking (at 90 mins), remove pan and spoon juices over the chicken and oranges and adjust positioning if required.
- About 45 mins before cooking time is over, remove the lid and slow cook further so the skin of the chicken crisps up a little and the casserole gravy becomes a little thicker.
- After cooking time is over, remove from the oven. Take a few tablespoons of the sauce and mix with the barberries then pour back into the pan, distributing the barberries evenly among and on top of the chicken thighs. The barberries will be cooked in this quick method and will retain their bright red colour.
- Because of the seasoning of the chicken, the advieh and stock, you may not need to season further, but taste once and add further seasoning if required.