Heavenly Mouthwatering Zereshk Polo (Perfumed Barberry Rice & Chicken)

Heavenly Mouthwatering Zereshk Polo (Perfumed Barberry Rice & Chicken) Text size Print This Page

This dish has been nothing short of a revelation. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I had a religious experience last night. I ascended, ran a victory lap through the seven realms, high-fived God’s chief angels then floated back down on an aromatic saffron cloud. Each grain of rice came out perfectly perfumed and perfectly separated from its neighboring grain. The saffron added a floral back note that didn’t overwhelm, but complimented the rice and barberries. The aroma of saffron lingered in the air like the scent of a lover who had just left the room.

Perfumed rice with sweet and sour barberries is an easy perfect dish any special occasion. The aroma. The textures. The flavors. Overcome with pleasure, I died, then came back to share what I’ve learned. This dish was so good that I made again the very next day.

The great thing about this recipe is that it is not an exact science. It’s fairly easy and almost fool proof. Feel free to put your own spin on it. An alternative version of this dish can be found in the amazing Persian cookbook, Food of Life.

This takes about 20 to prep and 45 minutes to complete.

Here’s what you’ll need:

4-5 pieces of skinless chicken – I used drumsticks and thighs pre-skinned and cut from my butcher.
1 onion – White or yellow
salt – to taste (1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
cinnamon powder
turmeric – 1 1/2 Teaspoons
Advieh powder (or substitute: or Garam Masala) – Advieh powder is a Persian spice mix made of dried rose petals, cinnamon, cardamon, and cumin.
1 cup barberries – Barberries are a very sour berry imported from Iran. You can find them at your local Persian grocery store or order them online. They are a bit pricey but they pack a powerful punch so a little goes a long way.
white sugar – 5 tablespoons
saffron – a generous pinch
salted butter – 2 tablespoons
basmati rice – 1/4 cup per person
olive oil – 1 tablespoon

Step 1 – Dress

Put on clothes you don’t care about. Seriously. Because once turmeric or saffron gets on you, you can just kiss that garment goodbye.

Step 2 – Boil

In a bowl soak rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Set aside.
For the rice: Fill a large pot about 3/4 full with water. Bring to a boil. The exact amount doesn’t really matter as long as you will be straining out the rice later. Add salt and bit of olive oil. Taste your water. The water should be slightly salty.

Separately, boil a kettle with about 1/2 cup of water.

Step 2 – Wash 

Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, draining any blood and mucus that falls off.
Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel.

Step 4 – Season

Season the chicken like you mean it. Put your foot in it. Generously sprinkle salt over chicken making sure to hit both sides of each piece.

Then coat the chicken with a thin layer of turmeric. The exact amount will vary depending on how much chicken you are cooking. The important thing is to coat the chicken until it’s all yellow.

Then coat the chicken with enough cinnamon powder until the chicken is covered.
Then finally coat the chicken with advieh, which is a Persian spice similar to garam masala. I have made my own advieh mix before, but decided to use garam masala this time around. You can find my advieh recipe here.

Step 3 – Get Happy

Rubber gloves are useful for this part.

Rub that sucker down so every part of the chicken is coated with the mixture. It’s ok if you have dry spice mix left over. Save that to add later to the pan.

Set the seasoned chicken aside. Let the spices hang out while you prep the rest of the dish.

Step 4 – Dice

Dice onions.

Heat oil in a thin-bottomed skillet on medium heat. ( Note: I made this recipe twice, once in an inexpensive thin bottomed pan, and the next day in my beloved thick cast iron skillet. I achieved better flavor with the thin bottom pan. )

Step 5 – Cook

In pan sauté onions for 5 minutes.

Place chicken right on top of the onions. Do not stir.
Leave on medium – high heat for 5 minutes, then turn down to medium/ medium–low heat. Add remaining spice mixture into the pot.

Cover with a lid and let chicken simmer on one side for 30 minutes, then turn over and simmer for another 5 minutes until done.

Step 6 – Make Saffron Water & Cook the Barberries

In a cup put a pinch of saffron. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour about 4 tablespoons of the boiling kettle water. Set aside. ( Note: If you grind it up or use saffron powder your water will be more yellow and yield a more colorful and possibly fragrant rice. )

Soak Barberries in cold water for 5 minutes. Skim off the barberries that float to the top. Then thoroughly drain and rinse making sure to pick out any bad berries, stones or twigs debris.

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Put in barberries. Add 5 Tablespoons of white sugar and sauté. Stir frequently and watch the pan as barberries burn easily. Once the berries have opened and are both sweet and sour, add a few spoonfuls of saffron water. Stir, then turn off heat. With a slotted spoon remove the berries and set aside.

Step 7 – Rice

By now your pot of water should be boiling. Drain your rice in the bowl and put in the pot. When the rice starts to dance in the pot, take out a grain and taste for doneness.

When the rice is 50% done take it out and put into another pot.

Heat second pot with olive oil and put a thin layer of rice on the bottom for the tahdig. Tahdig is the crispy rice (or potato) layer that is a delicacy in Persian cuisine.

After 5 minutes add the rest of the rice.

Pour rest of saffron water on top. Make a few holes in the rice so the steam can release. Put the pot on low heat and cook for another 15-20 minutes. When your kitchen smells like saffron, the rice is done. Trust me, you will know.

Your dinner guests are going to love you so much after this meal. Trust.



Specs: Canon 60D
Lens: 50 mm
TOD: 7-8AM
Light: Natural light only. Sun coming through N/E facing window with blinds turned to make dramatic shadows on food.
Prop Styling: I used an avocado green plate to compliment the deep crimson barberries and pale yellow rice and placed a cloth napkin in the background. For added texture I put the dish on top of my inexpensive wood cutting board. I turned the plate at a diagonal for a more dynamic image.

Try the recipe. Try the shot and show us what you got!

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