I thought I would start 2016 with a light, January-inspired dish to give everyone a break from the feasting that took place over Christmas…but then, I changed my mind. It’s a new year after all, and what better way to start the year with a flavour-packed dish that is not only comforting but also delicious and easy to make!
The journey of this recipe started 5 years ago when I decided to recreate a family classic that would be suitable to go on the tasting menu at one of my pop-ups. To paint a clear picture of where this finished dish derived from; picture a huge bowl of soupy, saffron and lemon flavoured broth which was filled with potato and chicken thighs, and plenty of garlic. I absolutely adored this dish. I loved the way the saffron, lemon and garlic combined and complemented the potato and chicken so well – it just worked! But, it just wasn’t the finished article for me.
I always knew I wanted to do something to the dish and make it fit for a tasting menu. I remember coming across an Iraqi food blog (Maryams Culinary Wonders; http://www.maryamsculinarywonders.com/2012/10/24/216-chicken-lemon-saffron-stew/) and I connected with Maryam and shared my memories of this dish. I used her recipe as a foundation, and over the next year or so I played with textures, colours, strength of the saffron flavour, and cooking technique, and I think I finally found a dish that still represents the family classic, while being presented in a more contemporary way. The pop-up diners loved it! The finished dish is a seasoned, crispy skinned, chicken breast supreme sat on a disc of layered potato, served with a rich saffron sauce, garnished with crispy onions and red amarynth. The real secret to this dish is your quality of chicken stock and your quality of saffron. I always do a homemade chicken stock and I use Iranian saffron.
I asked my dad if the ‘original’ dish had a name in Arabic, but he didn’t know. He told me that this was a common dish for him growing up, so I guess this truly is a family dish as opposed to a ‘classic’, Iraqi dish. Enjoy!
- 8 Chicken breasts ‘supreme cut’ (Boneless thighs are an excellent alternative)
- 1 kg Desiree potato
- 2 pints of good quality chicken stock
- Knob of butter
- 4 onions
- 3 gloves of garlic
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Olive oil
- 1 tbls ground fennel
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 generous pinches of saffron
- Generous squeeze of honey (optional)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Handful of golden sultanas
- 1 litre Sunflower (for deep frying)
- Red amarynth micro herb
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180°C
- Begin by peeling the potatoes and rinsing them under cold water. Once dry, very carefully slice with a mandolin. You are looking for a 2mm thickness. Take a roasting tin. Use a microplane on ½ a clove of garlic and mix that with a knob of butter. Once mixed, rub the garlic-butter all over the roasting tray. Begin layering your potato in a dauphinoise fashion ensuring each layer is seasoned and the potatoes are layered neatly.
- Once done, cover with cling film and press down with 3-4 heavy cookbooks for 30 minutes to ensure all layers are close and compact.
- After 30 minutes remove the weight of the cookbooks, as well as the Clingfilm. Pour over enough stock (usually 300ml) to cover the potatoes and cover with tin foil. Place in the oven for 90 minutes checking on the liquid content. You may have to add some more stock from time to time.
- For the saffron sauce, finely dice ½ an onion. Add a glug of olive oil to a saucepan and sweat the onions and the cinnamon stick. After 5 minutes, grate two cloves of garlic and add to the pan, increasing the heat slightly. Fry for 2 minutes, add the spices, and fry for another 2 minutes. Then add 1 pint of chicken stock.
- NOTE: When adding the saffron, make sure you use scissors to cut the saffron into the sauce. This allows the saffron to ‘bleed’ giving a more intense flavour.
- Turn the heat low and just let those ingredients infuse for the next 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should see the saffron strands begin to turn the sauce a rich yellow colour and the smells should be delightful.
- At this stage, check the potatoes. You are looking for a sticky, starchy consistency with some liquid in the tray.
- Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add a little oil to a frying pan and on a medium heat, begin searing the chicken, skin side down. You are looking for a crisp skin and golden colour which should take no more then 6-8 minutes. Do not flip the chicken, only fry the skin side. Once golden, transfer to a baking tray, flesh side down. Set aside.
- Once you feel you are close to the potatoes being cooked, place on the bottom shelf of the oven.
- In a separate pot, pour in 1 litre of sunflower oil and place on a medium heat. While that heats, cut the remaining onions in half and then slice as thin as possible. You want to cut in the same direction as the onion layers. Once heated, fry the onions until dark brown. Swiftly remove on kitchen paper and season with salt. Set aside.
- At this point, place the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes on 180°C
- Meanwhile, taste the saffron sauce for seasoning and add a handful of golden sultanas, a squeeze of honey and the juice of half a lemon. Taste, and add anything more according to your preference of sweet/sour.
- After 15 minutes, check if the juices run clear in the chicken. If yes, let them rest for 5 minutes.
- With a pastry cutter, carefully cut out 8 circles of layered potato and place on each plate.
- To serve, take the sauce and generously spoon over the potatoes. Next, take a chicken breast and place on top of the layered potato. Place the crispy onions on top. Finally, dress the border of the plate with red amarynth.