Zereshk Polo – Saffron barberry rice pilaf

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.



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Zereshk Polo

Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef
Saffron barberry rice with chicken
4.86 from 99 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Persian
Servings 4



  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive 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


  • 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 neutral oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, divided


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


  • 1 tablespoons pistachios or almonds, slivered



  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a non-stick pot.
  • 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.
  • Evenly drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the top of the rice.
  • Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of water over 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 medium-low 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.


  • 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.


  • Select a large serving platter to place on top of the pan and carefully and swiftly invert the rice onto the 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.


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!
Keyword barberry, chicken, rice, saffron
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Zereshk polo is an amazing Persian food. never lose it.

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