It’s an odd time of the year here, nearly-but-not-quite-spring. The daffs are opening in the garden and the sun has been making some cautious appearances, but it’s still a bit chilly and misty out there.
I’m not ready to fully embrace salads, even ones with hot bacon, but I want lighter, fresher food. This recipe was inspired by my sister-in-law Sarah, who was reminiscing about an Iranian dish she once ate, sharp with sour grapes and fragrant with herbs.
My version isn’t Persian but it is invigorating and healthy while still being comforting. I’ve made it quite brothy to serve with rice, but by all means thicken or reduce the sauce if you prefer, and eat with whatever carbs you please.
Rather than a conventional side salad, can I recommend adopting the Iranian habit of serving a plate of fresh herbs to nibble on before and during the meal? No dressing, just the herbs, although some warmed flatbreads wouldn’t go amiss. You’ll feel like spring has sprung.
Although sour grapes can be bought in preserved form from specialist shops, I’ve added sharpness with lime zest and juice and used sweet, fragrant Muscat grapes as a contrast. These are seasonal so if you can’t get them, use any fresh green grape.
I’ve tried to avoid harder-to-get ingredients, but if you happen to have dried limes in the cupboard, you could add one or two with the stock. Stab them three or four times with a knife before adding to the pan and discard before serving. Taste towards the end of cooking: you may want to adjust the quantity of fresh lime juice and zest you add, or leave it out.
You’ll notice there’s little added salt in the recipe. This is because most chicken stocks already contain it and there’s a danger of over-salting the dish as the stock reduces. You can compensate later but if your stock is home-made and very light on salt, use your judgement.
This isn’t a dish that benefits from being pre-made and re-heated. It’s best cooked just before you want to eat.
Please don’t omit the mint, it’s fundamental to the fresh flavour. And if you’re serving the dish with the suggested plate of fresh herbs, increase all the quantities given by 50%.
You’ll need a deep, ideally heavy based frying pan with a lid. Mine is 26cm in diameter and 5cm deep (plus lid).
Chicken with Herbs and Grapes
4 chicken thighs, on the bone, skin removed
1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and finely sliced lengthways
A pinch of salt
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
20g coriander, divided
20g parsley, divided
15g chives, divided
20g mint, divided
10g basil leaves
20ml dry white wine
500ml good quality chicken stock, warmed
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Approx 175g green grapes
Peel and slice the onions, peel and crush the garlic and chop the herbs, keeping them separate. Remove a heaped tablespoon from each pile of herbs, place in a bowl, cover and and set aside in the fridge.
Put the pan on a medium-high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of oil and brown the chicken on both sides. Remove to a plate.
Reduce the heat and fry the onions gently, sprinkled with a pinch of salt, until soft and golden, adding more oil if necessary.
Add the garlic and the larger amount of herbs, stir to coat, and cook for a minute until they’ve wilted a little. Pour in the wine and let it sizzle up.
Now add the stock, put the chicken back in the pan and put the lid on. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for about 40 minutes.
When the chicken is done, check the seasoning and if necessary, add salt and pepper to taste. Add the grapes and cook briefly until warmed through. Stir through the reserved herbs and the lime juice and zest and serve.