Zereshk Polo ba Morgh is a Persian classic made with Zereshk (barberries), Morgh (chicken), and Polo, which is the steamed and fluffy Persian rice. This is one of the mixed rice dishes that you will find at small casual get togethers, as well as larger Persian dinner parties, weddings and most festive celebrations and holidays. Sometimes this dish is served side by side with a type of soup, usually Soup é Morgh é Zaferani, or Soup é Jo and a simple salad.
Zereshk Polo ba Morgh is really a very simple concept in comparison to other Persian khoresh(s). The chicken is the main component of this recipe and it is cooked separately in a tomato saffron sauce, so it is easy to make in large amounts; the same goes for the rice. This is why Zereshk Polo Ba Morgh is a favorite “mehmooni,” or party rice dish in Iran. This festive rice is steamed and layered with a mixture of red zereshk berries and golden fried onions, then garnished with almonds and/or pistachios. .
Besides Zereshk Polo ba Morgh, the menu at a formal Iranian dinner party with a large number of guests may also include a white steamed rice with a lamb/beef khoresh, such as Khoresh Bademjan, or Gheymeh to offer a choice of different rice and meat.
Zershk Polo Ba Morgh and some other dishes such as, Gheymeh, Aash Reshteh, and Sholeh Zard are traditionally cooked in large amounts and shared with others on religious ceremonies as “nazri,” in a gesture of gratitude for fulfillment of a vow.
The tiny ruby red barberries “zereshk” add a tangy flavor to this khoresh and they are grown in the eastern part of Iran, in Khorasan province. There is also another species of zereshk which is less tart and much darker in color, and it’s actually called “zereshk e siah” meaning black barberry, that is grown in Kermanshah province in the western part of Iran.
Some cooks add sugar to the tart zereshk before mixing it with rice, but I prefer to briefly saute them on a very low heat with diced onions that have been fried to golden brown in butter. I layer my steamed rice with this combination that has an almost tangy flavor due to the hint of natural sweetness when onions are fried in butter to a perfect crispy golden brown.
The following pictures are to illustrate certain key steps. Please read the entire printable recipe for the detailed instructions:
Add chicken pieces (bone side down), water, onion halves, salt, pepper, and ground turmeric to a large 12-inch skillet. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat without covering the skillet. Skim off the foam that collects on top. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the skillet and cook for 30 minutes.
Start making the rice at this point; click here for the instructions.
Turn the chicken pieces and cook the other side for an additional 30 minutes. At this point the chicken should be fork tender. Discard the onion halves. Turn the chicken (meaty side up) and sprinkle the optional ground saffron powder on top of each piece.
Use the back of your spoon to rub the saffron powder all over each piece. This simple extra step paints the chicken pieces and gives them a very nice rich color without using too much of the precious saffron. Stir in the mixture of fried onions and tomato paste to the broth and add one tablespoon zereshk (barberries) and 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice. I started adding the zereshk to the sauce a few years back and absolutely love the enriched flavor.
Meanwhile make the fried onion and zereshk mixture for the rice: Dice and fry the onion, preferably in butter, until golden brown. Add the barberries and a pinch of saffron, saute over very low heat for a minute or so until the barberries are plumped up. The barberries tend to burn very quickly in high heat!
To serve, use a spatula to transfer 1/3 of the steamed rice to the serving platter, sprinkle 1/3 of the barberry/fried onion, and continue layering in this order, and with the zereshk mixture. Sprinkle some sliced almonds on top for a special presentation with added crunch and flavor.
Serve the chicken in a separate platter and have your guests help themselves to a piece or two over a bed of zereshk polo. Enjoy this delicious and festive Zereshk Polo ba Morgh with a side of Salad Shirazi and/or Sabzi Khordan.
Prep and cooking time: About 2 hours
- FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 8 skinless chicken thighs, or drumsticks (about 3 pounds)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ tsp black pepper
- 1 large onion cut in half
- 3 cups water
- ⅛ tsp ground saffron powder (optional)
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin and fried to golden brown in 2 TBSP vegetable oil (or 3 ounces fried onions)
- 2 TBSP tomato paste
- 2 TBSP fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 TBSP zereshk (pick through, wash and rinse)
- FOR THE ZERESHK POLO:
- Please see instructions for Aromatic steamed Persian rice and the Tahdig of your choice
- 2 ½ cups uncooked basmati rice
- 1 ½ tsp rice spice, divided
- 1 large onion diced medium and fried to golden brown in 3 TBSP ghee, or butter
- ⅓ cup zereshk, (pick through, wash and rinse)
- Pinch of ground saffron powder, optional
- Optional garnish:
- Sliced almonds and/or pistachios
- In a large 12-inch skillet (with a lid) add the chicken thighs (bone side down), turmeric, salt, pepper, onion halves and 3 cups of cold water. Without covering the skillet, bring it to a boil over medium high so all the foam from cooking the raw chicken rises to the top. Use a slotted spoon to skim off the foam. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the skillet and cook for 30 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces and cook for another 30 minutes on medium low.
- Thirty minutes into cooking the chicken, start making the rice according to the instructions for Aromatic rice.
- In a medium skillet fry the sliced medium onion in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until golden brown. Add the tomato paste and sauté until aromatic. Set aside.
- When the chicken is fork tender, discard the onion halves. Turn the chicken pieces one more time (now the meaty part of the chicken will be up) and sprinkle the optional ground saffron powder on the pieces. Use the back of a spoon to rub the saffron on the surface of each piece. This simple added step adds a very rich color to the chicken pieces.
- Make the tomato sauce in the same skillet by mixing in the prepared fried onion and tomato paste with the broth. Add 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1 tablespoon zereshk to the sauce. Bring it to a boil over medium heat and then reduce the heat to medium low, cover the skillet and cook for 15-20 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
- At the end of this cooking time the chicken should easily come apart with a fork. The sauce will be reduced and a glistening oil will rise to the top, or as we say in Farsi, “ja biofteh” which roughly means “to settle.” If there is too much sauce left in the skillet, remove the lid and cook for a few more minutes until it is reduced.
- To make the zereshk/fried onion mix: In the same skillet that you've fried the diced onion, add ⅓ cup barberries and a pinch of optional saffron and saute over low for couple of minutes until the zereshk plumps up. Zereshk burns very quickly so keep the temperature very low.
- For the layered presentation of Zereshk Polo: Use a large spatula to transfer ⅓ of the steamed Aromatic rice to the serving platter, top with ⅓ of the barberry/fried onion mixture and continue layering and finish the top with the remaining zereshk/fried onion. Garnish with sliced almonds and/or pistachios.
- Serve the chicken on a separate platter.