Monday, November 30, 2009

Persian Chicken with Saffron and Sumac

Many Ashkenazi Jews think of Persia only once a year, on Purim. But Persian Jewish communities in Los Angeles, New York and Israel are large, vibrant and growing, and they have a rich history dating back to biblical times. Of course, with Persian Jewry also comes some of the Middle East's best, classically kosher culinary secrets. Because I have a Persian neighbor, I have tasted some of these delicacies myself, but have hesitated so far to try cooking Persian on my own.

Several weeks ago while visiting Los Angeles, I had a chance to meet some lovely friends of my brother Lewis, and because they are of this heritage, it was even more exciting for me that they were willing to share a version of broiled Persian chicken that I felt confident enough to try out.

Before this, I had been generally unable to find kosher recipes for Persian chicken on the Internet, but what I did know was that I needed to use saffron and sumac powder, and that the chicken is generally marinated in lemon juice and then broiled. This is a very "classically kosher" concept, because my attempt with this blog is to get away from heavy sauces and added fats. With broiled food, one locks in the flavor on the plate while leaving the oil and fat in the pan.

Lewis' friends not only supplied me with the best source for the saffron (Trader Joe's!), generally acknowledged to be most expensive and rare spice around (saffron is handpicked from the inner stigma of the crocus flower), they even sent a bag filled with bottles of it for me to take back to New Jersey! I used a bottle of that in addition to ground sumac powder that I found at Golan Dried Fruits on Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

I am not confident of the amounts on this recipe, and though this version was good, I am not sure it was authentic. The spice profile used here is very different from my normal Eastern European flavors (no garlic or paprika, can you believe it?!), and even though I've eaten lots of Middle Eastern food, cooking it is a different thing. I would absolutely love any comments or suggestions. But on this version, my husband and I both found it delicious and unusual.

1 chicken, cut in eights
1 gram Spanish saffron, buzzed into a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder
4-5 lemons, juice only
1 onion, finely grated
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp ground sumac

Marinate the chicken for half an hour, or more, in the lemon juice that you have mixed with the saffron, onion and some salt and pepper to taste.

Bake at 400 degrees for another half an hour, then broil for 5-10 minutes on high, until deeply browned. Sprinkle generously with ground sumac. Here, it is served with aromatic saffron rice and fresh grape tomatoes with parsley.

Saffron on Foodista

Persian Chicken on Foodista

Sumac on Foodista


  1. This dish sounds delicious! And, what do you know, I have saffron from TJ's that I have yet to try out.

  2. This looks outstanding. I can't wait to try it!