So I had used the macadamia nuts Oh! Nuts had sent me, but not the dried red sour cherries. I vaguely remembered some rice dish studded with dried fruit, and when I looked it up I found many recipes for Persian jeweled rice, a rich rice dish with dried fruits, nuts, and a crapton of butter. Clear winner.
The recipe I settled on included instructions for roasted chicken with a simple marinade consisting of cumin, olive oil, onions, and saffron. I don't think I used 1/4 cup olive oil since I used less chicken, and I halved the amount of cumin, otherwise everything was the same. I also didn't toss out the onions when the time came to roast the chicken since it would add more flavor to the broth.
The rice. I love the stuff and would eat it everyday if I made it that often. However, I rarely venture outside of the typical manner of preparation. Sure, I've made sushi rice and mango coconut sticky rice, also risotto and rice puddings, though pertaining to side dish rices I stuck with the norm. One interesting aspect in the preparation for jeweled rice is that you parboil the rice first, as it will continue to cook on the stove or in the oven after being layered.
Let me talk about boiled rice. Typically, you would steam rice, using just enough water to be fully absorbed by the rice by the end of the cooking time. With this method, prepared as you would pasta, the rice is boiled in salted water until tender (or in this case, less than al dente). The salt seasons the rice, and the rice comes out tender, separate, and perfectly cooked. The first recipe I used says to parboil the rice for 5 minutes, and it can be left to sit until you're ready to use it, drained and covered. (During which, it practically finished cooking itself by the residual heat.)
Did I mention that it took a mere 5 minute to reach an almost cooked state? That would mean a few minutes to 5 minutes longer would have resulted in completely cooked rice, which is half the time it takes when steamed. I remember reading about this in a thread on Chow.com, I think, and some people swore by this method. And to think I never would have tried it had it not been for this recipe.
So, the link up there says to cook it for 10 minutes, and if you're not going to let it sit for a 1-3 hours, you probably should. Otherwise, 5 minutes would do. I'll post the second link below.
Also of note, I used jasmine rice since I didn't have basmati and it came out fine.
When ready to assemble, crushed saffron gets mixed with water, then tossed with the rice. The saffron I used came from a Mexican store, and it wasn't very expensive. Maybe it's a sub-quality saffron or a different type that produces more from each crop, I don't know. It didn't really color the rice much, so possibly old saffron loses its dying ability or I just needed more of it.
Next step is to melt the butter with the dried cherries and sugar. I used 1/2 cup dried cherries and a 1/4 cup packed dark raisins.
This used a lot of butter -- 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons. I was tempted to reduce the amount to half a stick or 6 tablespoons, but the idea of the excess richness intrigued me enough to give it a go and see if it was worth it.
Separately, I toasted 1/3 cup pepita seeds for 3 minutes in a 350 degree oven (if you hear popping, stop).
The rice gets layered in a 2-quart baking dish with two layers of the butter-plumped dried fruit and toasted pepitas. Once you finish with the last layer of rice, the butter gets poured on top.
How this recipe differs from the one I was going to try is that this is baked, whereas the other recipe tells you to cook the rice during the second stage over the stove, which helps the rice develop a golden crust on the bottom that gets broken up afterwards. I would follow this recipe for ingredients and the other recipe for the cooking method next time, as it would taste exceptionally good with the crispy crust pieces.
The chicken came out incredibly moist and very tender. I skipped the broiling step, as the chicken actually cooked 5-10 minutes longer than the recipe said (I didn't start the layering of the rice soon enough) and the skins were already crispy and golden.
THE RICE was incredible! Just on the verge of sweet, and very buttery and rich. The sweetness and flavor of the cherries with the taste and crunch of the pepitas made the dish unique. Although it was a little sweet, it was a great pairing with the chicken. I also ate some leftover rice for breakfast this morning with milk and fresh strawberries.
But I cannot express enough how incredible this rice was. Not very difficult to prepare, even with the many steps, and since the rice can be made ahead of time it helps to break the steps up so you don't have to do everything at once.
Persian Roasted Chicken with Dried Cherry-Saffron Rice ~ I followed this recipe exactly, though I prepared the rice according to step one from the recipe linked below.
Jeweled Rice with Dried Fruit ~ Here, I used the their method of preparing the rice ahead of time. Next time, I would follow these instructions for preparation and cooking method of the entire dish. I will note that the inclusion of the sugar is vital to the taste of this recipe, though you can leave it out if you'd rather.