Well, as threatened, I’ll be putting up a few recipes over the holiday season, in the spirit of “Never trust an organic chemist who can’t cook”. This one is a classic kebab recipe from my wife’s side of the family – ask any Iranian, and they’ll know about joojeh kebab. I keep thinking it would make a great fast-food choice, but my wife doesn’t seem to be interested in working the drive-through window, so that dream may have to wait. Note that this is often served with grilled or broiled plum tomatoes and chunks of grilled onion, so feel free to add those in on the side if you like.
3.5 lbs (c. 1.5 kg) chicken parts, bone-in (this can be done with boneless chicken as well, but that’s less traditional. In that case, I prefer boneless thighs instead of boneless breast, which I find a bit bland, but it’s your call).
1 large onion, well chopped
Juice of one to two limes (about 1/4 cup, c. 50 mL)
One teaspoon salt (5.5 to 6g)
1/8 teaspoon saffron, which comes out to a “large pinch”. No idea of the weight in grams unfortunately. My wife’s conviction is that Iranian saffron is the best in the world, and that may well be more than mere patriotism. The saffron from northern India is supposed to be pretty good as well. Spanish saffron is the most widely available, but I have no experience with it myself).
Marinate the chicken pieces in the mixture of the chopped onion, lime juice, and salt in a large nonreactive bowl, stirring to make sure that everything gets covered. This needs to go for at least an hour at room temperature, but it can sit for longer in the fridge (several hours), and that’s probably a better way to go. But if you wait too long, or if you chopped the onions into a fine slush or something, the resulting dish will be a bit oniony, but still perfectly edible.
This dish can be made either outdoors on a grill (the preferred method) or indoors under a broiler, if the weather is keeping you from kebabbing. Either way, before you put the chicken onto the heat, you’ll want to put a small amount of boiling water (1/8 cup, 25 mL or so) onto the saffron in a small cup or glass and let it sit for ten minutes or so to extract the flavor.Some folks put some butter in there to melt along with it. (The main flavor compounds in saffron are water-soluble, being glycosides like picrocrocin, but the aglycons of those (like safranal) are more lipid-soluble).
As with any grilled or broiled chicken recipe, you’ll probably want to start the dark-meat pieces first and give them a heat start. Cook everything under high heat, turning frequently, and basting with the saffron solution as you do. The onion juice will tend to make things brown well, and you should make sure that every piece has some saffron splashed across it as well, giving a festive multicolored look to the final product. You’ll have to make the call about when it’s done, since heating sources are going to vary so much, but in general an entire chicken, in pieces, should be done in roughly twenty minutes, depending on the setup.
This is traditionally served with Iranian-style basmati rice, which is a recipe of its own (especially if you want the saffron-flavored rice crust at the bottom, known as tahdeek, and most Iranians certainly do). I’ll post that during this holiday season as well, but fear not, joojeh kebab, in my experience, goes with most anything. I like it in the summer, off the grill, but it’s perfectly welcome in the wintertime as well. Enjoy!