This gloriously festive holiday roast chicken is inspired by Lavangi chicken, more than a recipe, a method from the northern region of Gilan, in Iran. Like many other dishes from this green land by the sea, pomegranate molasses, walnuts and fresh herbs are used galore.
If you don’t have all of these fresh herbs, use whatever you can find. A note of aroma is important, so try to have coriander, or dill at the very least. You can find barberries (or Zereshk, in Farsi) in most middle eastern stores. If you can’t find any, feel free to use dry cranberries. Notice that if you do, you should skip the step where I cook barberries in butter and add sugar. Just add the cranberries to the rest of the filling.
Saffron Roast Chicken, Stuffed with Herbs and Pomegranate Molasses
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken, degutted, about 1.8 kg
- 100g butter
- 3 tablespoon saffron water
- 2 tablespoon salt (1 ½ tbsp for dry brine, ½ tbsp
- 1 lemon
For the stuffing:
- 400-500g fresh herbs (at least 3 of these, more, or all: coriander, chives, dill, spring
- onion, parsley, basil), washed, trimmed and finely chopped
- 50 g (½ cup) walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 5 – 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 60 ml (¼ cup) pomegranate molasses
- 25-30g (⅓ cup) barberries (or dry cranberries)
- Juice of a lemon
- ½ teaspoon butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon of sugar
- Black pepper to taste
Several hours before cooking, or even the night before, start with the dry brine; pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Rub 1 ½ tablespoon salt on the chicken skin and in the cavity. Squeeze the lemon juice into the cavity of the chicken and leave the squeezed lemon inside the cavity. Cover and rest in the fridge. About two hours before cooking, bring the chicken out and let it reach room temperature. Discard the lemon.
Prepare the stuffing by heating the oil in the pan with the minced garlic. After a minute, or as soon as you can smell the garlic, stir in the herbs with salt. Keep stirring, the herbs should wilt down and release their juices. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Then add the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and walnuts and let it absorb all its liquid, for about another 10 minutes.
In the meantime rinse the barberries. Melt ½ teaspoon of butter in a small pan and cook the barberries (see headnote) on a gentle heat for a moment or two. Then add the sugar and stir. Add the barberries to the mixture of herbs, mix well. Now let everything cook together until all the juices are absorbed. The cooking time of the stuffing should be about 30 minutes in total. Preheat the oven at 220° C. Melt the butter and mix well with the saffron water and the remaining ½ tablespoon of salt.
To prepare the chicken for the saffron butter rub, first put it on one side, then with a sharp knife make three deep scores on one leg. Then turn the chicken around and repeat with the other leg. This will allow the chicken legs and breast to cook at the same time.
With the chicken legs facing you, gently pull the skin at the end of the breast towards you with one hand and insert two fingers of the other hand between the breast and skin. Repeat this carefully and gently as much as you can to separate the skin from the meat, but without tearing it.
Fill the cavity with the stuffing. Tie the chicken with a butcher’s twine and put it on a baking dish. With a brush, rub as much as the saffron butter you can on all sides of the chicken, and under the skin. Brush more saffron butter every 30 minutes. Cook for about 80 minutes. Let the chicken rest for at least half an hour. For serving, filter the juices at the bottom of the pan and serve in a gravy boat. Garnish with pomegranates and fresh herbs.