Zereshk Polo – Saffron barberry rice pilaf

زرشک پلو

This is Zereshk Polo, a distinguished Persian dish.

The popular Zereshk Polo features many of the elements of Persian cooking. Barberries, which are quite tart and bright in color, are layered within the fluffy Basmati rice and served with succulent chicken, or if you prefer with lamb or beef .

Zereshk Polo is a delightful dance of sweet and sour; one of the pillars of Persian cooking. Whether you like it sweet or more on the tart side, this dish has something to offer to everyone. The regal barberries are brought to life in the company of butter and sugar, while glistening with a luscious layer of saffron.

I’ll leave you with a vision of mildly sweet and notably tart berries, light-as-a-feather fluffy rice, and fork-tender chicken; all on a plate in the company of crunchy tahdig! I hope this will inspire you to take a journey into the flavors of Iran.

Dream!

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Zereshk Polo

Saffron barberry rice with chicken
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian
Keyword: barberry, chicken, rice, saffron
Servings: 4
Author: Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, ground
  • 4 chicken pieces, with bones and skin
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Rice

  • 2 cups white basmati rice, soaked and rinsed
  • 8 1/4 cups water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons salt, for parboiling the rice; will be rinsed out
  • 4 tablespoons butter or ghee or oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, divided

Barberries

  • 2 tablespoons butter or ghee or oil
  • 1/2 cup barberries, rinsed
  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar, adjust to your taste
  • 1 tablespoon saffron water

Garnish

  • 1 tablespoons pistachios or almonds, slivered

Instructions

Chicken

  • In a large frying pan, saute the onions over medium heat for 10 minutes until translucent. Add turmeric and pepper and continue to saute for 2 additional minutes.
  • Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the chicken on medium high heat for 5 minutes on each side.
  • Return the onions and add water to the chicken. Cover and cook over low heat for 60 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and salt and mix well. Cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until the chicken is fork tender.

Rice

  • Wash the rice thoroughly and set aside to soak for at least one hour. Rinse.
  • In a large covered pot, bring 8 cups water and salt to a boil. Add the rinsed rice and boil on high heat uncovered for about 6-8 minutes, or until the rice has slightly softened.
  • Drain the rice in a colander and set aside while you prepare the pan.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons ghee in a non-stick pot over low heat.
  • In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of the lightly cooked rice with 1 tablespoon of saffron-water mixture, gently mix and spread evenly in the bottom of the pot. This will be the crispy rice referred to as Tah-dig.
  • Pour the remainder of the rinsed rice to the pot and lightly fluff with a fork.
  • Cut up the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee into pieces and evenly spread over the top of the rice.
  • Pour the additional 1/4 cup water evenly over the top of the rice. Wrap the lid with a clean towel and place on top of the pot. This will allow the rice to steam.
  • Allow the rice to steam over a medium-low to medium heat for 45 minutes.
  • Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon saffron water over the top of the rice. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Barberries

  • In a small sauce pan, gently melt the butter and add the rinsed barberries, sugar and saffron water.
  • Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and barberries have come to life and brightened.
  • This step is done over low heat and no more than 2-4 minutes. Take care to not burn the berries.

Assembly

  • Once the rice is cooked, cautiously and swiftly invert the rice out of the pot and place on a large serving platter.
  • Decorate the barberries around the edges and on top of the rice and garnish with pistachios or almonds.
  • Arrange the chicken pieces around the rice and serve.

Notes

Using a cook cutter, I cut out shapes of stars in 1/4″ thick slices of potatoes and used them to create potato tahdig. 
I always prefer cooking with chicken pieces complete with bone and skin on.   If you prefer, you can use skinless and boneless and reduce the cooking time slightly.
Though chicken is most commonly served with Zereshk Polo, beef or lamb stew pair equally well.
Though less traditional, to make this dish vegetarian, I have served it with Nimroo (sunny side up eggs) or crispy roasted tofu!
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