Spiced dried fruit dresses up plain roast chicken

Roast chicken is a meal that my family enjoys fairly often, particularly when I can find an organic bird on sale.

Those little fluorescent orange tags are my main quarry in the meat section at Medford’s Food 4 Less. They proliferate the closer an item is to its “use by” date and according to its price tag: $1, $2 … $4 off (!) when the date on the package matches the date on the calendar.

When purchasing a whole chicken, that reduction can constitute a quarter of the bird’s original price. If I don’t have plans to prepare it the same day, or the next at the very latest, I simply stash it away in the freezer.

A chicken on hand suggests pairing with other readily available ingredients, a winter’s worth of citrus fruits in the fridge and potatoes and squash in the pantry. But after many months of the same flavor profiles, I start craving something a little unusual.

An array of dried fruit is another pantry staple in my kitchen and perfect for incorporating in this in-between season for fresh produce. Warming spices ward off the chill of the long winter while the floral note hints at warm weather to come.

The dish’s signature spice, advieh, is an Iranian blend incorporating dried rose petals. Shop for it online, or make your own with common spices, plus some crushed, dried rose petals available at herb shops. Because I have rosewater on hand, I’d simply add a splash to the melted butter that moistens this dish’s dried-fruit filling.

Still more butter is suggested as a basting liquid, enhanced with saffron, to yield a crispy, deeply colored skin. While that step could be omitted, a little gilding the lily turns this familiar meat exotic.

Tribune News Service photo


Sweet-and-Sour Stuffed Chicken

2 small frying chickens or 4 Cornish hens

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 1/4 cups butter, divided

1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped

1 apple, cored and chopped

1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons advieh (see note)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon ground saffron

Clean and rinse the birds, then pat dry. Mix the salt, pepper and turmeric and rub birds inside and out with mixture.

Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a wide skillet; add the onion and garlic; cook, stirring to lightly brown and caramelize. Add the prunes, apple, apricots and raisins; stir-fry for 1 minute. Melt 1/2 cup of the butter in a separate pan and add to onion-fruit mixture, along with the salt, pepper, advieh and sugar; stir-fry for 20 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Stuff chickens with fruit mixture and pin cavities shut. Place in a ceramic roasting pan drizzled with oil. Cover with a layer of parchment paper and a layer of aluminum foil on top and seal tight. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour.

Make a basting liquid from remaining 1/2 cup butter, melted and stirred into the lime juice and saffron. Uncover birds and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally, until meat separates from bone.

Serve in dish or arrange on a serving platter. Serve with plain rice or flatbread, salad and fresh herbs.

Makes 4 servings.

NOTE: Advieh is a warm spice mix used in many Iranian dishes. Find it online or make it by combining 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin with 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground rose petal (optional) and ground cardamom.

— Recipe from “Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies” by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage, 2011)

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