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Your new go-to chicken supper dish by Ella Risbridger

This easy recipe for cardamom and cinnamon chicken rice is a one-pot wonder from Ella's latest cookbook, A Year of Miracles

Is this Ottolenghi? Was this once Ottolenghi? I think so; it feels like a Yotam thing, a Middle Eastern thing; like some­ thing a little bit Emirati, Omani, Israeli. It feels like the kind of recipe I cooked once from a book, a thousand years ago, and made it over and over again, twisting it and tweaking it for maximum efficiency.

Listen to this: caramel, char, chicken skin, blistering under the grill; cardamom, cinnamon, cumin; golden, saffron-scented rice, sticking a little in a kind of faux-tahdig to the bottom of the pan for a sticky, crispy secret; red onions tangling for almost an hour in the skillet, with butter and oil; redolent, fragrant, windows steamed up. One single pan. Onions, low and slow. No, slower.

Sour cherries, softened in chicken stock, tender and yielding like the chicken itself, the meat falling away from the bone. Think of the onions and the spices, warm and tender. Think of the washing up, or lack thereof. And that, maybe, is what makes this mine and not Ottolenghi’s (if it was his in the first place): I’m a domestic cook, an I-know-I-have-to-clean-the-kitchen cook, a can-I-buy­ this-in-the-corner-shop cook. Think of this as a bastardised weeknight version of the real story.

I tip it into two bowls, balance a chicken thigh on each steaming, saffron-scented heap, and call Jo through: bring squash, I tell her, bring squash and spoons.

INGREDIENTS

For 4 (maybe with leftover chicken, maybe not)

  • Big pinch of saffron + 2 tsp milk (optional; saffron is so expensive that having it as a non-optional ingredient is quite stressful)
  • 2 big red onions 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 black cardamom pods (if you can’t get black, green is fine)
  • 1 cinnamon stick 
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 8 smallish chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
  • 500ml hot chicken stock (I use a cube, obviously) 
  • 300g basmati rice, washed 
  • 30g dried sour cherries
  • 2tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander 
  • 4 tsp sesame seeds

METHOD

If you’re using the saffron – more expensive than gold (and I like that, that flowers are, in the end, worth more than metal) – soak it in the milk and set aside.

Slice the onions into half-moons, and then into half-rings.

Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to your biggest oven-proof heavy­ bottomed skillet, and heat over a low flame. When it feels warm (hover your hand over to test – and if you’re too scared to do that because the oil is sputtering, it’s too hot), add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and cumin seeds. Toast until you can smell them: warm and inviting and familiar. My grandmother’s house smells like cumin and Imperial Leather and soil, and I miss it very much.

Toss the onions into the skillet and stir them through the spices. Cook for a long time. Longer. We’re talking at least 30 minutes just on onions, 40 even, maybe closer to an hour if you’ve got an hour. Anyone who tells you to cook onions quicker than that is wasting your time, and making you eat bad onions. Stir them occasionally to stop them sticking, but they’ve got oil, and should be fine. I just keep an eye on them.

When the onions are ready – a bit caramelised, a bit sticky – add the remaining olive oil and then the chicken thighs, skin side down. Let the skin get crisp and golden, then flip them over and brown the other side. This is an annoying bit, but necessary: lift the chicken out of the pan, and set aside; it just can’t be done any other way without getting dry rice stuck to the crispy skin. I am sorry.

If using saffron, stir the saffron-infused milk into the stock.

Add the rice to the skillet and stir thoroughly. Add the cherries and stir again. Make little hollows in the rice for the chicken thighs (it’s probably eight of them?) and sit them in, skin side up. Pour the stock directly over the rice, around the chicken, then cover tightly and cook over the lowest heat for about 20 minutes.

Taste the rice. Is it tender? If so, a quick grill, and you’re there.

If not, leave for 5 more minutes and try again.

Brush the tops of the chicken thighs with sesame oil, and bash the skillet under a hot grill for 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken skin blisters and chars. Scatter with the parsley, coriander and sesame seeds; serve directly from the skillet.

Where to find this recipe and more…

Extract from The Year of Miracles: Recipes about Love + Grief + Growing Things by Ella Risbridger (Bloomsbury, £22 Hardback)

Photography © Haarala Hamilton

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