In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat and cook the onions until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste, salt, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and 4 cups of water. Once boiling, reduce the heat to simmer and add the chicken pieces to poach for 20 minutes. Drain the poaching liquid and reserve it to use as broth. Remove the chicken and set aside.
Note: If using chicken breasts (as opposed to browned pieces of meat like thighs), remove them from the poaching liquid halfway through cooking so they don’t dry out.
In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup with the sugar and 1 cup of water, letting it boil only after all the sugar has melted over low heat. Once it is sticky with a spoon or to the touch, add the barberries, orange zest, lemon juice and saffron. Simmer for one minute to infuse. Put aside.
In a large skillet or saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, cook the rice in the chicken broth over medium heat. When the liquid comes to a boil and you can see the top of the rice, place the poached chicken all over, pressing gently with the back of a spoon. Then pour the prepared syrup over it. Cover, making sure to seal, and cook over very low heat for 30 to 40 minutes until the rice is fully cooked.
Let stand 10 minutes. Then serve immediately on a platter.
Tips and tricks
The Persian version (Irani Berry Pollo) is traditionally prepared as a rice cake, which is flipped onto a plate. It is prepared by leaving the rice at the bottom of a buttered pan to caramelize and become crispy.
When the pot is returned, the tahdig (in Persian for “the bottom of the pot”, in reference to the crispy layer of rice) is then shared by the elders who offer it to the youngest at the family table.
Additionally, almonds, pistachios, and raisins can be sprinkled over the cooked palau before serving.
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