Load up your plate with a steamy helping of Persian Saffron Chicken and rice! Carefully seasoned and marinated in a bright mixture of fresh herbs, warm spices, and delicate saffron, this chicken dish is moist, juicy, and perfect for the grill.
The delicate sweetness of saffron is widely loved and used throughout Asia, and particularly in the Middle East. Known as one of the most expensive seasonings in the world, you need only a small amount to make a big impact.
With this recipe, I make a Persian saffron chicken dish that pairs this spice with parsley and sumac, two common Persian ingredients, along with onion, garlic, and a couple of other seasonings.
Added to a yogurt marinade, all of this flavor seeps right into the chicken. You can marinate overnight and leave the grilling for tomorrow. You’ll have dinner ready in just 15 minutes!
I recommend making a meal of Persian saffron chicken and rice with this tender herbal rice. However, you can also serve your grilled chicken with warm, soft flatbread or a crisp, refreshing salad.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Chicken - I use breast meat, but you can also opt for thighs (bone-in or boneless) and follow the grilling times as instructed.
- Saffron - A seasoning with a delicate, floral sweetness. Do not replace this ingredient!
- Plain Yogurt - To both tenderize and add moisture to the meat. Coconut milk and buttermilk are possible substitutes, but they will not impart the same moisture and will affect the flavor of the dish overall.
- Yellow Onion - A mild onion that still has a strong, sweet taste. Red onions could be used, though sweeter, and white onions would give a stronger, sharper flavor.
- Garlic - The flavor will seep into the marinade, yet won't overpower the other flavors. Chives or shallots would make good substitutes.
- Parsley - A fresh, peppery herb. It would be best not to replace this common Persian herb. If you must find a substitute, use cilantro, basil, or chervil.
- Sumac - A tangy, vinegar-like spice with a citrusy flavor. It’s commonly found in Middle Eastern marinades.
- Salt & Pepper - Always important to balance the salt and heat in a dish.
HOW TO MAKE SAFFRON CHICKEN
- Bloom the Saffron. Grind the threads and place in a large bowl. Cover with 2 tablespoons of warm water and stir. Set aside while the spice blooms and turns a brilliant red color.
- Grate Onion. Grate the entire onion into a bowl. Squeeze the excess water from the grated onion, or allow to drain in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Marinate the chicken. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the onion, including the now bloomed saffron, and mix everything together. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss in the mixture. Once completely coated, cover and let marinate for at least 45 minutes.
- Prepare to Grill. While your grill preheats to 350°F, clean the grates and lightly spray with cooking spray. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shake off the excess, and discard remaining marinade.
- Grill. Follow the grill timing below as appropriate for the cut of chicken you’re grilling, and check to ensure that the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165°F:
- Serve. Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving with your choice of side.
GRILL TIMES FOR PERSIAN SAFFRON CHICKEN
- Breasts (boneless): 6 minutes per side
- Breasts (bone-in): 7 minutes per side
- Thighs (boneless): 4 minutes per side
- Thighs (bone-in): 5 minutes per side
- Skewers (boneless breast, cubed): 4 minutes per side
How do you cook with saffron?
In order to cook with saffron, you need to grind it and allow it to bloom in warm water. I use a mortar and pestle to achieve a fine grind that can evenly disperse throughout a dish. However, the threads are so delicate that you could grind them in the palm of your hand.
This spice can be added to any dishes that sit or simmer, such as marinades or soups. It’s best to allow time for its subtle flavor to seep into whatever it is you’re cooking.
What food does saffron go with?
Saffron goes well with fruity or nutty dishes. Desserts that use vanilla, honey, or cinnamon would be brightened and deepened with its flavor. It also pairs well with small amounts of herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro.
But that’s not all! The spice complements savory dishes beautifully, as in this saffron chicken recipe. Poultry and seafood dishes are particularly well-suited for its sweet flavor.
Can you let saffron chicken marinate overnight?
Yes, but not too much longer. With this recipe, you can marinate for up to 24 hours. Any longer, and the meat starts to break down and turn mushy, so don’t let it sit in the yogurt for longer than a day. See recipe Notes.
Grilled Saffron Chicken
- 2 lbs chicken breast
- ¼ teaspoon saffron ground
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 medium yellow onion grated
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon parsley chopped
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Grind the saffron threads in the palm of your hand, or in a mortar and pestle (preferred). Mix with 2 tablespoons of warm water in a large bowl. Let sit and allow saffron to bloom and draw out as much color as possible. It should be a deep ruby red. Set aside (I keep mine in the mortar).
- Over a bowl, grate the onion completely. This will get juicy! When complete, gather grated onion in hands and squeeze excess water out or let drain in colander. Place in another mixing bowl and discard onion water.
- Add the yogurt, garlic, parsley, sumac, bloomed saffron, salt and pepper to the grated onion. Mix thoroughly to incorporate completely. Toss with the chicken to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate 45 minutes (See Note 1).
- Preheat your grill to 350°F. Clean grill and coat with cooking spray. Shake excess marinade from chicken. Discard marinade.
- Here are approximate cooking times for chicken grilled at 350°F. Internal temp needed is 165°F.
- Boneless thighs: Grill for 4 minutes per side, then check the internal temp.Bone-in thighs: Grill for 6 minutes per side, then check the internal temp.Boneless breasts: Grill for 5 minutes per side, then check the internal temp.Bone-in breasts: Grill for 7 minutes per side, then check the internal temp.Boneless breast, cubed/skewers: Grill for 4 minutes per side, then check the internal temp.
- Serve with steamed rice and/or humuus, vegetables or salad of choice.
- Chicken should marinate for at least 45 minutes, but I recommend no longer than 4 hours. Unlike beef, poultry doesn't have any tough connective tissue that needs to be tenderized. It starts to break down and the texture gets mushy. While it’s OK to marinate overnight, any longer would be far too long.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.