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    Persian Saffron Pilaf

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    Persian Saffron Pilaf

    This delicate golden rice is a celebration dish, its origins dating back to the sophisticated palace cooks of the ancient Persians. It is cooked with minimal liquid over a gentle heat, which causes a crust of golden rice to form on the bottom of the pan - this is the best bit.

    • Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus soaking
    • Cooking time: 30 minutes
    • Total time: 1 hour puls soaking time 60 minutes

    Serves: 4


    • 500g basmati rice
    • Large pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
    • 50g unsalted butter
    • 2 skinned chicken breasts
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 8 cardamom pods, crushed
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp each finely chopped parsley, chives and coriander
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • To finish
    • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
    • Natural yogurt
    • Fresh mint


    1. Rinse the rice in a sieve under the tap until the water runs clear. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak for 1-2 hours. Soak the saffron in a splash of boiling water for 10 minutes, then crush it firmly with a spoon to release the colour and flavour. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a roomy frying pan. Don't let it brown. Cut the chicken breasts into ribbons and add to the pan. Toss over the heat for a few minutes, just long enough for the chicken to firm up and take a little colour.
    2. Bring a large, heavy-based pan of water to the boil and add the salt. Drain the rice and stir it into the boiling water. Add the cardamom. Bring back to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, then drain in a colander. Rinse the grains with warm water to remove surface starch. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the saffron and its soaking liquid.
    3. Rinse the rice saucepan well and return it to a medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until it starts to smoke slightly. Add half the drained rice in an even layer, top with the buttery chicken and its juices and the chopped herbs, and finish with the rest of the rice. Cover the pan tightly, wrapping the lid in a tea towel to ensure a tight fit and absolutely no evaporation. Set the pan over a high heat for a couple of minutes to warm the rice right through, then reduce the heat to the minimum. Leave on the gentle heat for 20-30 minutes.
    4. Remove from the heat and set the pan-base in a basin of cold water to loosen the crisp golden crust which will have formed under the rice. Transfer the soft rice and the chicken to a warm serving dish. Loosen the crust carefully with a palette knife, break it into pieces and arrange it round the rice. Melt the remaining butter and trickle it over the rice. Scatter with the toasted pine nuts and serve with a bowl of yogurt stirred with chopped mint as a dipping-sauce for the crust.

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