Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom

May 18, 2012 (Last Updated: January 11, 2019)
Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom

Royal chickens destined for Indian palace tables were massaged with musk oil and sandalwood and fed on pellets infused with saffron and rose water, so the flavours permeated the flesh of the birds. Our more humble chickens – lacking that spa treatment– haven’t had that kind of life, but the rule that what goes in must come out still applies, so do buy the best bird you can afford. I have included black cumin in this Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom recipe. If you can’t find any, just use normal cumin. Black cumin is smoky, though, and really does enhance this dish, so if you happen to come across it, snap it up. 

Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom

Serves: 4


  • 4 – 6 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
  • 4 large onions, finely sliced
  • 1,7kg chicken, skinned and jointed into eight
  • 6 – 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated root ginger
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground black cumin
  • 1½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 250ml yoghurt
  • 120ml single cream
  • salt
  • seeds from 12 – 15 green cardamom pods, ground
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp toasted flaked almonds



Heat the ghee or oil in a wide, heavybased pan and fry the onions until they turn a deep golden brown. Remove the onion with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. When cool, blend them coarsely in a food processor. Set aside.


Fry the chicken pieces in the same fat over a medium-high heat to seal in the juices. Reduce the heat slightly and add the garlic and ginger. Fry for a minute, then add the chilli powder, black cumin and pepper, and sauté well. Lightly whisk the yoghurt, cream and salt with half the ground cardamom and pour over the chicken. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 20 – 25 minutes, until the chicken is tender.


In the meantime, lightly toast the saffron threads over a low heat, then crumble them over the blended fried onions along with the remaining cardamom. Stir the mixture into the chicken and simmer for a further minute or so. Finish off with the lime juice, coriander and almonds.


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