Throwback Thursday: Persian roast chicken with nut-studded couscous

Throwback Thursday: Persian roast chicken with nut-studded couscous
Tony Jackman’s Persian roast chicken. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Roast chicken is a feature of cuisines all over the world, from Ireland to Peru and Germany to Australia, but if there were to be a prince among roast chickens in all the world, surely it must be the way it is done in the style of Persian cuisine.

If there is a cuisine that is more scented than that of Persia, or of course Iran as it has been known since 1935, I would like to know about it. The country has been called Iran, or Eran (as it is often called within the country), in the Western world since Shah Reza Pahlavi, father of the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, asked foreign states to use the term Iran, which had always been the native name preferred by Iranians. When it comes to cuisine, the word “Persian” has stuck. That’s 88 years and counting of the cuisine, by that name, remaining in popular use worldwide. And what a distinctive cuisine it is.

Persians are only one of many ethnicities in the country, but we risk quibbling about spilt crumbs like mad chickens if we start plucking that bird. Better just to accept that what we mean by “Persian” cuisine is the culinary skills and traditions of Iran/Persia that travelled the world and stuck. Because it is just so beautiful.

Perhaps the closest to Iranian food would be some kind of amalgam of elements of other cuisines from Morocco to Lebanon to Turkey and parts of India. Cuisines that are redolent of spices, but particularly of the sweeter ones. The cardamom and cinnamon, and in the case of Persian food such blessedly sweet and aromatic, even romantic, ingredients as rose and that queen among spices, saffron. But there are nuts too, and dried fruit.

Rice, meat, nuts and vegetables are often contained in the same dish as pomegranates, quince, raisins and apricots, whether fresh or dried. The spices in the same pot would be likely to include cardamom, turmeric, saffron (yes, as well as turmeric), cinnamon and coriander, with some zesty lime to perk it up a tiny bit and parsley or coriander leaf to finish.

In the case of a roast chicken, excluding the rice, I used all of the above to make a stuffing. But there’s a baste too, to get the maximum “Persian” flavour. Rather than rice, I chose to go with couscous studded with nuts.

The quantities given are for a dinner party for 6. Please halve all quantities if cooking for two to four people.

(Serves 6)


2 whole chickens, wing tips snipped off

2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Salt and pepper for seasoning the cavity

For the stuffing:

4 Tbsp butter

2 large onions, chopped

100 g almonds, toasted and chopped

100 g roasted cashews, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom seeds, pounded

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

100 g dried cranberries

100 g raisins

100 g dried soft Turkish apricots, chopped

Juice and zest of 1 fresh lime

2 Tbsp cooking oil


⅓ cup butter

Juice of 1 lime

2 Tbsp honey

Pinch of saffron threads, rubbed between your fingers

½ teaspoon salt


Rinse the chickens inside and out and mop with kitchen paper.

Mix the turmeric, pepper and salt and rub into the chicken skin.

Preheat the oven to 190℃ with the rack fairly low.

In a heavy pan, cook the onion in butter while stirring, until lightly golden, then add the chopped almonds and cashews and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper and add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cardamom. Cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 more minutes.

Add the apple pieces, cranberries, raisins, apricots and lime juice and stir well.

Oil a deep, large oven pan and place the chickens in it side by side.

Season the insides of the chickens with salt and pepper. Spoon the stuffing equally into the chicken cavities. Pack it in thoroughly, pushing it in with the back of a spoon.

Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Season the outside of each bird with salt and pepper.

Add the butter to a small pan, melt over a low heat, add the other baste ingredients and heat through while stirring.

Roast for 90 minutes, basting every 30 minutes or so until all the mixture has been used up.

For the couscous, per 1 serving:


100 g couscous

130 ml hot water (not boiling)

Water as directed on the packet

4 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 Tbsp chopped almonds and cashews

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper

Coriander chopped


Measure the couscous and pour it into a bowl. Add the commensurate quantity of hot water. Stir and leave it to steep for 5 minutes.

Melt 4 Tbsp butter with the olive oil in a small pot and add the chopped almonds and cashews. Stir in the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Run this mixture through the cooked couscous, using a fork to fluff it up. Toss chopped coriander through.

Serve the chicken with nut-studded couscous. DM/TGIFood

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on a blue platter by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Francoise Armour says:

    I made this today. What a hit it was. I never thought I could find roast chicken sexy again. Thank you! And as for the couscous, I think that I might never want to eat it any other way again.

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