from one generation to the next
I have a kitchen bookcase dedicated to cookbooks. I confess to also having overflow in second and third locations. New publications need to pass close scrutiny before they win a space in my collection, but I do have favourite authors whose writing and recipes I love. They gain automatic entry.
I’m guilty of under utilising my cookbooks and regret that I neglect them. I tend to be lazy when cooking week night meals. Tiredness and lack of time drive me to seek solace in the comfort of dishes that require little thought and even less effort.
In a quiet New Years resolution to myself I promised to make the effort to use my cookbooks more frequently, to try some of the recipes that I marked with post-it notes before the book was parked on the bookshelf. These pages are the perfect platform to keep me on the straight and narrow. I’ll endeavour to regularly cook and write about a new dish I’ve tried. Today is the first post to honour that commitment.
“Saraban” by Greg and Lucy Malouf
As the chef of Melbourne’s very first gastro pub Greg Malouf single handedly introduced Melbourne to the exotic flavours of the middle east. I’m not talking about rustic home style felafel, and tabbouli but finely crafted dishes that incorporated the ingredients and techniques of his heritage. Malouf’s departure from Melbourne left a pool of upskilled young chefs and disappointed diners, but thankfully he turned his absence into a blessing and gifted us all the resources to make food á la Malouf by referencing his sumptuous coffee table cookbooks, Saha, Saraban and Turquoise.
I cooked Malouf’s recipe for Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken without deviation from the published recipe, however I have clarified the writing of the method. Flicking back and forth between recipes while mixing the marinade for the chicken and preparing the rice Persian style annoyingly interrupted my workflow, but having said that the dish was very simple to prepare.
The finished dish was very mild in flavour, almost bland, however the texture was delicious, the rice having maintained it’s form and texture. The saffron was just discernible, the taste of orange totally lost. It’s rare for me to season food on my plate but I added both salt and pepper at the table. The major upside was that the chicken and rice made a great vehicle for eating delicious thick natural yoghurt and fresh herbs.
Would I make this dish again? The ingredient list and the ease of preparation created expectations. I confess to feeling disappointment, but I will try again and add some garlic, a little chilli, more salt and extra orange zest.
Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken
250g thick natural yoghurt
3 egg yolks
30 saffron stamens soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon orange flower water
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500g chicken thigh & breast meat cut into 2cm cubes
400g basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
80g unsalted butter cut into small pieces plus extra for the dish
thick natural yoghurt
fresh herbs, dill, chives, parsley
Mix together the marinade ingredients, then stir in the chicken so it is well coated.
Cover and refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of water for 30 minutes, swishing it around with your fingers from time to time to loosen the starch.
Strain and rinse the rice.
Bring 2 litres of water to the boil then add the salt, then stir in the rice.
Return the pot to the boil and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.
Drain the rice and rinse with cool water and drain thoroughly. ( I prepared the rice to this point then refrigerated it until I was ready to construct and bake dinner.)
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Generously butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, then mix half the rice into the marinade and spoon it into the buttered dish.
Spread the rice over the base and up the sides of the dish.
Arrange the chicken on top in a flat layer then spoon the remaining rice on top, spreading it with the back of a spoon to cover the chicken and make it flat on top.
Lay a sheet of lightly buttered baking paper over the rice then cover tightly with aluminium foil.
Bake for 90 minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface with butter.
Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Use a spatula to loosen the rice from the sides of the dish, then turn it out onto a serving platter.
Serve with thick yoghurt and a generous scattering of roughly chopped fresh herbs.