FOUR days of supplying welcoming hot food on the same table at the same time for a hungry convalescent nursing mother, two eight-month-old babies, a three-year-old, and nine students was a challenge: not only the cost, but the mathematics involved in doubling or trebling the quantities of my usual repertoire of recipes, and the herding of everyone, washed and overalled (where necessary), and seated on size-appropriate chairs at the same time.
I turned again to Sarah Stancliffe’s invaluable Book of Simple Feasts (Canterbury Press) for inspiration. She quotes a very good recipe for a chicken dish from the Near East, Chicken Firuzabad, that she learned from Josceline Dimbleby. Firuzabad is in Iran, and the recipe uses plenty of the dried fruits of the Near East.
The original recipe is online, but I substituted brown rice, and halved the salt, and it still pleased the brown-rice avoiders. The original also uses unskinned almonds, but I used blanched ones. I will definitely offer this again, trying quinoa next time, and I imagine that it’s a recipe that could be differently spiced, and different fruits could be tried. I needed to use three casserole dishes with lids to fit it all in, but it comfortably serves 10-12 people. The timing at the end is elastic, but you need to allow at least an hour to soak the rice before you start.
700g (1½-2 lb) brown basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
120g (4 oz) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
12-14 chicken thighs
225g (8 oz) dried apricots, halved
175g (6 oz) pitted prunes, halved
175g (6 oz) almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1.7 litres (3 pts) water
salt and pepper
Rinse and soak the rice in warm water with the salt for at least an hour before you start cooking the chicken. Fry the onions in half the butter and all the olive oil in the largest saucepan/stock-pot/flameproof casserole you have. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, and set them aside while you fry the chicken thighs in batches, to brown them all over. Add the onions and all the fruit and nuts, and season with the cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add the water and bring to the boil. Then cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is tender.
When the chicken is nearly done, bring one or two saucepans of water to the boil. Drain the rice and plunge it into the boiling water to parboil for 4-6 minutes. Drain it and rinse it. Take the chicken out and reduce the juices and fruit at a fast boil until you have a syrupy sauce. Melt the rest of the butter in a large casserole dish and add the rice and then the chicken thighs, and then the fruity sauce over the top. Cover and bake in a very slow oven for 20-25 minutes, by which time the rice should be perfectly cooked.