Poulet Rouge: Zereshk Polo
For a while I was obsessed with Zereshk Polo.
When I lived in the Bay Area, there was a little Persian place in Mountain View, on El Camino. The food was simple, the family warm and inviting. And their zereshk polo unbelievable. For something as simple as chicken kebab on basmati with a few berries thrown on top, it absolutely rocked my little world. And I probably ate there 3 - 4 times a week, eating almost exclusively the same dish, trying to absorb everything it had to share.
It's been about 15 years since my weekly trips to their restaurant, and I'm still haunted by the dish - I've never been able to find its equal for all of my efforts. And it was the first dish I imagined when Justin Marx of Marx Foods offered me some fat, juicy Poulet Rouge hens. I had never cooked with these kinds of birds before, and I thought taking this fairly straightforward chicken dish into the heritage poultry realm might be a good challenge. I'm glad I did.
I wanted to update the dish in some way, and given the simplicity of the original, I felt the zereshk was the place to make my mark. Instead of merely rehydrating and tossing them with basmati rice, I made a zereshk and dried apricot compote, a tart sweet dressing to parry with the the rich poulet in saffron yogurt.
The poulet rouge
is a heritage breed, this variety raised in North Carolina - and I had never used it before. The breasts are plump, the legs closer to game birds in that they're leaner and more muscular, not the fatties like you get in grocery store chickens. They're about twice the size of a cornish hen but smaller than a grocery store chicken, even the little free-range ones we get at the farmers market. The meat has a little tooth to it, like dark meat duck but not that rich. Turned out that the meat held up to the saffron and zereshk well - you could still taste the chickenness through the spices.
Poulet Rouge, Zereshk Polo-style
3 oz zereshk berries, rinsed (I buy mine from a little Persian grocery store, and they're kept in the freezer. Zereshk berries are the fruit from the barberry tree, rich in vitamin C and wickedly tart. If you can't find them, or don't want to buy them online, you can substitute dried cranberries pretty successfully.)
1+1/2 oz dried apricot, chopped
1/2 - 3/4 c water (to cover)
1 - 2 tsp honey, to taste
- Combine the zereshk, apricots, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Simmer until the fruit is very soft and the water level has reduced noticeably.
- Remove from the heat and let cool briefly, about 5 minutes.
- Add honey to taste.
- Puree briefly, sieve if necessary, and set aside until the rest of the dish is ready.
1/4 gram saffron, crushed
1/2 tsp water
1 dried lime, ground
12 oz Greek yogurt
1 whole Poulet Rouge
- Combine the saffron and water to make a brightly colored liquid.
- Add the saffron water and dried lime to the yogurt and stir to combine.
- Place the bird into a shallow dish and coat it with the yogurt. Allow this to marinate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Wrap the marinated bird in parchment paper, folding the ends over to create a nice little package. If you need to tie the parchment shut, so do now.
- Place the bird in parchment into a baking dish and into the oven.
- Cook for 45 minutes, then remove the bird from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before opening the packet.
- When you open the packet, check for doneness by pulling the leg away from the rest of the body. The meat should be cooked through and blood should not appear in the joint area. If you're in doubt, re-wrap and return the bird to the oven for another 10 minutes.
I served this with a simple cucumber, tomato, and feta salad and basmati rice topped with spiced almonds and caramelized shallots. Oh, and a beer from Dogfish Head, made from a strain of supposedly ancient Egyptian yeast. Not quite the right drink, but it did just fine in a pinch!
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