FISINJAN SHAKH PILAF with CHICKEN
Pilaf is the signature dish of Azerbaijani cuisine. It is usually served on special occasions and known in Azerbaijan as Ash or Plov. Azerbaijani cuisine has dozens of different types of pilaf, one of the most delicious of which is Fisinjan Plov–a pilaf with chicken or meatballs, cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce, made of crushed walnuts and Narsharab (pomegranate syrup/molasses). Fisinjan (or Fesenjan) is an ancient dish of Persian origins. It certainly isn’t one of the most beautiful dishes in Azerbaijani cuisine, in fact, some describe it as unappetizing looking dish, but you will change your mind as soon as you taste its delicate, rich, and flavorful sauce.
*A full-sized picture of this dish is available in the Gallery.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
for Shakh Pilaf
2 cups long-grain (Basmati) rice (cup size 250 ml)
1 quart (1 liter) water + 1 tbsp salt for soaking rice
3 quarts (3 liter) water + 3 tbsp salt for cooking rice
8 oz (225 g) clarified unsalted butter
½ tsp saffron threads
5 medium size round lavashes (or flour tortillas)
1 small chicken (or any parts of the chicken to your taste)
1 cup grounded walnuts
3 tablespoons Pomegranate syrup/molasses (Narsharab)
2 tablespoons melted clarified butter
1½ cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Preparing the chicken.
Rinse the chicken, cut it into portions, and place it in a pot. Cover the chicken with cold water and bring it to a boil. As it comes to a boil, skim the foam off. Reduce the heat to low, add salt, and simmer until the chicken is cooked.
When the chicken is done cooking, let it cool down, then remove it from the pot and separate the meat from the skin and little bones. Strain the chicken stock and set it aside for later.
Preparing the Fisinjan.
Peel the onion, cut it in half, and slice it into thin half-rings. In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of clarified butter and fry the onion until it is lightly golden.
Grind the walnuts in a food processor or in a meat grinder and add them to the onion. Then add Narsharab and mix everything together. (I recommend you use a very high quality sweet and sour Narsharab.)
Cook the mixture for a few minutes over low heat while constantly stirring to prevent it from burning. Add the chicken stock and pieces of chicken to the walnut mixture, stir, and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If your sauce is turning too thick, add more chicken stock.
Cooked Fisinjan should become brownish-purple in color. In an ancient Azerbaijan, to darken its color, a horseshoe or large nail is placed into the sauce. In order to achieve a similar result, you can place a grinding plate from your meat-grinding machine (as shown on the picture above) into the sauce, then remove it when the sauce done cooking.
Fisinjan can also be prepared as a vegetarian dish. For the vegetarian version, do not add chicken, and instead of chicken stock, add water.
Preparing the saffron infusion.
Place saffron threads into a shot glass. Then, pour about two tablespoons of boiling water and let it sit. The water will turn an opulent yellow color immediately, deepening over the next few minutes until it becomes a clear, bright orange.
Preparing the rice.
Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water several times until the water stays clear, to remove excess starch. Then, soak the rice overnight in salty water (or at least 1 hour in very hot salty water) for a truly great, fluffy, and evenly cooked rice. Before cooking the rice, pour out the water straining the rice with a colander.
Fill a pot (or saucepan) with water, add salt, and bring it to a boil. Place the rice into the boiling water. Stir, lower the heat to medium, and let it cook for 5-10 minutes (depending on the quality of your rice). Cooked rice should be soft on the outside and hard inside (not raw.)
Strain the rice using a colander, and rinse with a hot water to wash out an extra salt.
Cooking Shakh Pilaf.
Pour 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and grease the pan thoroughly. Spread butter on the bottom and sides of the pan. Grease each lavash (tortilla) with melted butter.
Place one round lavash on the bottom of the pan and arrange the remaining lavash around the sides, overlapping one other. Do not leave any open spaces! The bottom and sides of your pan must be fully covered with lavash.
Place a layer of the rice (use about a quarter of it) and pour 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter on this layer. Then, place another layer of rice on top and follow up with more butter. Repeat the procedure with all your rice. On the last layer, pour your saffron infusion on top along with more butter.
Cover the rice by folding the lavash hanging off the side of the pan inward and grease it with melted butter.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C) and place the pilaf in to cook for about an hour (until the lavash is golden-brown). Remove the pilaf from the oven and leave it for about five minutes to rest.
Turn the pan upside down on a serving plate. Remove the pan from the pilaf. Cut the crust into portions, and serve Shakh Plov with Fisinjan.
Bon Appétit! Enjoy!
This post is also available in: Russian