Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh)


250 g thick natural yoghurt
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons Saffron Liquid
1 teaspoon orange-flower water
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500g boneless free range chicken breast and thighs, skin removed and cut into 2 cm cubes
400g basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
80 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
thick natural yoghurt and fresh herbs, to serve

Let's cook:

The Day before the event: Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, saffron liquid, orange-flower water, zest, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.

Preparing the Saffron Liquid - also 1 day before:

20 saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water

To make the saffron liquid, lightly toast the saffron threads in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for about 30 seconds. While the threads must be totally dry, be very careful not to burn them. As they crisp up, they release a wonderfully pungent aroma. Tip the saffron into a mortar and leave for a moment or two before grinding to a powder.
Mix the ground saffron with the boiling water and set aside to infuse for at least 1 hour before using. The colour will continue to develop for about 12 hours.
(For more than 2 tablespoons saffron liquid, allow 10 saffron threads per each extra 1 tablespoon boiling water.) Saffron powder can be used, so just use 1/4 teaspoon saffron powder, mixed with boiling water and proceed with the recipe.)

On the day of the dinner:
Wash, soak and parboil the rice.
Preparing the Rice:
400g basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt

Wash, soak, and parboil the rice. This is quite different to how we normally cook rice, but not difficult.
Wash the basmati rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch.

Strain the rice in  a fine colander, rinsing it again with warm water until water is clear.

Bring 2 litres water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the sea salt and stir in the strained rice.
Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Test the rice after 4 minutes by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can. Please note: (I think 5 minutes was too long and the rice wasn't as hard in the centre as it should be. However, the recipe still worked. I advise to check it after 4 minutes to be sure.)

Preheat the oven to 190 deg. C and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon it into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken on top of the rice, then spoon in the rest of the rice to cover, and smooth the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter. Serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt and a selection of fresh herbs - tarragon, basil, chives and parsley would be lovely.

Serves 6.

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