I wrote earlier that I am addicted to cardamom, right? Well, I have another sinful confession to make - I am addicted to saffron too. My nose is quite adept at recognizing its aroma at such a distance you may think I have serious issues here:)
Saffron is quite an expensive treat, I should say. I used to buy it from a Persian grocery store about a 30 minute drive from where we live but I recently discovered Spanish saffron at a nearby Trader Joe’s and it made my life easier. Every time I go there I make sure I buy a small jar so that I have enough supply to satisfy my saffron cravings.
In Azerbaijan saffron is the king of spices. Saffron is used widely but at the same time sparingly in rice pilaffs, in soups and stews, desserts, sweets and syrups and many other dishes to add a nice touch of flavor and/or beautiful color.
My friend Maryam once made this chicken stew with quince infused with saffron. After having at least 3 servings (yes, I am a glutton) of it, I was ready to write the recipe down and whip up this glorious dish next time my addiction kicked in. This stew is pretty easy to make and it is delicious too. The flavors of quince, saffron and chicken go great together in the dish. Maryam and I share the same ethnic background but we grew up in different countries, she in Iran and I in Azerbaijan. I see this dish as a fusion of Persian and Azerbaijani cuisines that have a lot in common, and where both quince and saffron are widely used in cooking.
A word on quinces. If you ever travel to Azerbaijan, make sure you stop at a local farmer’s market to buy fresh quince. Don’t be tempted to rush to the first stand with quinces you see in the large market hall. Listen carefully and if you hear a seller proudly shouting “Ordubad Heyvasi!” or “Ordubad Heyvasi burda” meaning “Quince from Ordubad” and “Quince from Ordubad is here” don’t wait, head straight over in that direction and fill your bag with this exotic fruit. The city of Ordubad boasts the best quince in the country. It is so tender and sweet inside. Go ahead and eat them raw, just like you would eat an apple. In Azerbaijan we also make delicious quince preserve, we stuff the quince with meat and call if Quince Dolma. The exotic fruit can also turn into a nice refreshing syrup we call sherbet - perfect to finish a hearty meals with.
Ok, I’m being carried away here. I’ll stop. Without much ado, here’s the recipe. Thank you, Maryam!
SAFFRON INFUSED CHICKEN WITH QUINCE / Heyvali ve Zeferanli Toyuq
4 medium quinces (about 2 pounds / 1 kg)
6 tablespoons vegetable or corn oil
1 teaspoon powdered saffron threads (using a mortar and pestle powder 2 teaspoons saffron threads) dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
3 pounds (about 1.5 kg) boneless chicken parts, cut into serving size pieces (I used thighs)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water
about 10 dried sour plums, pitted and halved (if it is difficult to remove the pit, simply cut the flesh into strips to use and discard the stone) - substitute with 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1. Do not peel the quinces. Quarter them and remove core with a knife. Cut into wedges not too thin and not too thick.
2. In a large frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the quince and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add saffron powder and cook together, for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to coat the quince with the saffron. Remove from heat.
3. In a large deep frying pan, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the onion and cook together for another 6-7 minutes. When the chicken starts to release the juices, add tomato paste dissolved in water. Cook together for another 10-15 minutes, or until the juices have slightly thickened. The chicken will be almost but not completely cooked at this point.
5. Add the quince and dried sour plums to the chicken and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Reduce the heat to medium to low, and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken and quince are tender (quince should not be mushy). Note that cooking times may vary depending on the chicken and how hard the fresh quinces were.
Nush Olsun! Enjoy!