This classic Iranian dish, also known as morasa polow or javaher polow, is typically served at weddings and large gatherings. The combination of aromatics, such as saffron and cinnamon, plus the abundance of beautiful toppings, such as toasted pistachios and almonds, vibrant "jeweled" barberries, raisins, turmeric-laced onions and candied carrot and orange strips, make this dish very special. Every ingredient is prepared and cooked with care, then assembled on a bed of tender and fluffy rice. The saffron chicken can be served shredded, as I have done here, or still on the bone.
For the saffron chicken: Put the saffron in a small bowl with 4 ice cubes and let the ice melt at room temperature. This will be the bloomed saffron.
Put the chicken, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon stick and onion in a pot and cover with 4 cups of water. Cover with a lid, turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer, covered, until the chicken is fully cooked, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the bones and shred the meat into smaller chunks. Set aside.
For the jeweled rice: Meanwhile, peel the oranges, making sure not to include any of the bitter white parts, and slice the peel into very thin strips. Fill a small bowl with water, add the orange peels and rinse. Drain in a colander, add fresh water to the bowl and rinse the peels again. Repeat the process twice more to remove any bitterness from the peels.
Put the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a simmer. Add the orange peel and carrots, lower the heat to medium low and simmer until slightly softened and glazed, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Rinse the rice a few times until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a pot, fill the pot with water to cover the rice by about 1 inch and add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring the rice to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to medium low and let it simmer until the water has almost evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. Wrap the lid in a kitchen towel and place it over the rice. Continue to cook until the grains are tender, another 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the turmeric and cook until the onions are very tender and golden, another 10 minutes. Set aside.
Drain the orange peel and carrots in a colander. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the orange peel and carrots and cook until crisp-tender and warmed through, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add the barberries and cook until shimmery, watching them carefully so they don't burn, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Melt another 1 tablespoon butter in the same pan. Add the raisins and cook until softened and warmed through, about 3 minutes; transfer to the plate. Melt another 1 tablespoon of butter, add the pistachios and cook until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes; transfer to the plate. Melt the last tablespoon of butter and cook the almonds until toasted, about 3 minutes.
To finish the chicken: Heat the vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat, add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the bloomed saffron and 1/2 teaspoon salt and give it a good stir.
To assemble, mix 1/2 cup of the rice with the remaining bloomed saffron. Transfer the rest of the rice to a platter, then top it with the saffron rice, chicken, fried onion, orange peel, carrots, barberries, raisins, pistachios and almonds. You can serve as is or mix everything right before serving.
You can make the rice ahead of time and heat it right before serving.
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