Chicken with Caramelized Onion & Cardamom Rice
Although rice has never been grown locally, it has become a staple Palestinian grain and definitely the basic ingredient in all ceremonial meals (people of lesser means and from the countryside often had to make do with bulgar, which costs less).
Cooking meat with rice and water in one pot is a good way of introducing a good meaty flavour to the rice while keeping things relatively simple — no stock is needed and only one pot is used. Bukharan Jews (from Uzbekistan) have a more sophisticated version than the one below, called plov, which is at the centre of all Bukharan celebrations. There, the chicken and rice are layered more carefully so that when the pan is inverted at the end, the chicken is perfectly fried at the bottom, now the crown on top of the elaborate creation.
This chicken and rice casserole is the definition of comfort food. For an Allepian variation, replace the chicken with 5cm pieces of good stewing beef. Boil it in some water with the spices until tender, 1-2 hours. Make the liquid up to 500ml before adding the rice and onion. At the end, you can also stir in some cooked and skinned broad beans.
|25g||barberries (or currants)|
|4 tbsp||olive oil|
|2||medium onions, finely sliced (250g in total)|
|1kg||chicken thighs, with bone and skin, or 1 whole chicken divided into quarters|
|1/3 tsp||whole cloves|
|2||long cinnamon sticks, broken in two|
|100g||Greek yoghurt, mixed with 2 tbsp olive oil (optional)|
|Salt and black pepper|
Put the sugar in a small saucepan along with 40ml of water and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the barberries and set aside to soak. If using currants you do not need to soak them in this way.
Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has turned a deep golden brown. Transfer the onion to a small bowl and wipe the pan clean.
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl and season with 1½ teaspoons of salt and black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well. Heat your frying pan again and place the chicken and spices inside. Sear for 5 minutes on each side and remove from the pan (this is important as it part-cooks the chicken). The spices can stay in the pan but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken. Remove most of the remaining oil as well, leaving just a millimetre at the bottom. Add the rice, caramelized onion, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Strain the barberries and add them as well. Stir well and return the seared chicken and push into the rice.
Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, cover the pan and cook on a very low heat for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid and quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan and seal again with the lid. Leave the dish undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm with yoghurt if you like.