Saffron Chicken

(Murgh Zafrani) This dish is traditionally cooked in the dum manner, which involves lining the rim of the pot with a rope of flour dough and pressing a flat lid on top to make a tight seal. A layer of hot coals is arranged on the lid, and the pot is set over ashy coals—typically of tamarind wood in Lucknow—so that the food slowly steams. We found that sealing the pot with aluminum foil and baking it in a low oven works, too.

Saffron Chicken
This dish is traditionally cooked in the dum manner, which involves lining the rim of the pot with a rope of flour dough and pressing a flat lid on top to make a tight seal.
Yield: serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 14 cups usli ghee
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4"-thick slices
  • 8 medium cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 (3") piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 14 cup raw unsalted cashews
  • 14 cup charoli nuts
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. clotted cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • Salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cardamom, sifted
  • 1 14 tsp. kashmiri red chile powder, sifted
  • 12 tsp. ground mace, sifted
  • 1 (4-5-lb.) chicken, skinned, rinsed, and cut into 10 pieces
  • 1 12 tsp. saffron threads, crushed into a powder
  • 1 tsp. kewra (screw pine) water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°. Heat 1 cup of the ghee in a small heavy pot over medium heat until a slice of the onion sizzles instantly when dropped into the pot. Fry onions in 2 batches, stirring often with a slotted spoon, until dark brown but not burned, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer onions to paper towels to let drain and cool. Chop onions and put into a blender. With motor running, drizzle in 6–8 tbsp. cold water through hole in blender lid, blending until a loose paste forms. Put onion paste into a large heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid and set aside.
  2. Put garlic and ginger into blender and, with motor running, drizzle in 6 tbsp. cold water through hole in blender lid, blending until a loose paste forms. Transfer garlic–ginger paste to pot with onion paste. Put cashews and charoli nuts into blender and, with motor running, drizzle in about N cup cold water through hole in blender lid, blending until a loose paste forms. Transfer nut paste to pot.
  3. Add yogurt, clotted cream, heavy cream, 2 tsp. salt, cardamom, chile powder, mace, and the remaining ghee to pot and stir until well combined. Add chicken and mix together with your hands until chicken is well coated in sauce. Mix saffron and screw pine water together, let rest for 10 minutes, then add to pot.
  4. Cover pot with a large sheet of aluminum foil, set lid on top, and crumple overhanging foil around rim of pot to form a tight seal. Transfer to oven and cook until chicken is very tender, 1 34-2 hours.
  5. Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Strain sauce through a sieve into a large bowl, discarding solids. Season to taste with salt, then spoon sauce over chicken.