Persian rice with chicken and row of barberries on the side

Zereshk Polo Morgh (Persian Barberry Rice with Chicken)

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6 1x


Zereshk Polo Morgh is a simple, yet classic Persian (Iranian) rice flavoured with barberries (zereshk) and served with a chicken (morgh) stew (khoresh).



Liquid Saffron

  • A pinch of saffron (about 20 pistils, if you’re counting!)
  • tiny pinch of salt
  • 6 Tbsp hot water

Polo (Rice)

  • 500g (2 1/2 cups) basmati rice
  • a large saucepan of water (to parboil the rice)
  • 3 heaped Tbsp salt (this will all be drained away after parboiling the rice)
  • 3 Tbsp liquid saffron

The Tahdig

  • 2 ladles of the parboiled rice above
  • 1 Tbsp yoghurt
  • 1 Tbsp liquid saffron
  • 1 Tbsp salted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Morgh (Chicken)

  • 750g (1.6 lb) on the bone chicken thighs (500g/1.1 lb, off the bone)
  • 1 medium onion, halved, then sliced thinly
  • 1 Tbsp liquid saffron
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp sundried tomato paste
  • 1 red capsicum (bell pepper)
  • 250ml (1 cup) water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar or any clear vinegar

Zereshk (Barberries)

  • 4 Tbsp barberries
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar


Let’s Start with the Liquid Saffron

  1. Crush the saffron and salt, using a pestle and mortar, to a powder. The salt aids the crushing. A round and round motion is better here than pounding, because the saffron pistils are fairly tiny and flat.
  2. Add the hot water, and leave to stand while you get all the other ingredients ready.

Parboiling the Rice

  1. Bring a large, roomy saucepan full of water to boil on high heat. Add the salt to it.
  2. Rinse your rice.
  3. When the water is boiling, tip the rice in and bring back to boil on medium heat. Cook for 7 minutes, then drain the rice and give it a rinse in cool/cold tap water (depending on the season). Drain and set aside.

Steaming the Rice, starting with tahdig.

  1. Wash out and dry the saucepan you used to parboil the rice, then place it on medium heat.
  2. For the tahdig, see proportions above. Mix the 2 ladles of rice rice, yoghurt and salt.
  3. Heat the saffron and butter in your saucepan, and swirl it around for a few seconds.
  4. Tip the rice mix in and flatten with the back of your ladle. Leave to cook for a minute.
  5. Gradually add the rest of the rice on top of the tahdig, ladle by ladle, forming a conical shape. The reason for this is that traditional chelow pots were conical, giving you a wide base for your tahdig. Also given the long cooking time, whatever rice that touches the side of the saucepan is going to crisp up slightly. So you want as much of the rice away from the edges as possible.
  6. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of the liquid saffron all over.
  7. Wrap the saucepan lid up with the towel and place on the saucepan, ensuring it’s a tight fit. The towel is there to absorb any excess moisture, preventing soggy rice. Make sure your tea towel is nowhere near the flame!
  8. Cook on that same medium heat for 5 minutes. This should be enough time for the steam to build up. My mum used to wet her fingers and touch the side of the saucepan and if it “sizzled” that meant there was enough steam.
  9. At this stage, lower the heat right down and let the rice steam away for 45 minutes. This will produce a golden tahdig, the way I like it. If you prefer a darker shade of brown, go for 60minutes.
  10. When the rice is done, take it off the heat, top with pinches of the 2 Tbsp of butter, cover, and leave to rest for 10 minutes before you start dishing up. While the rice is steaming, let’s get the chicken going.

Let’s Cook the Khoresh Morgh (Chicken Stew)

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat, I like using a wide and shallow dish.
  2. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides, about 2 minutes each side.
  3. Add the onions, lower the heat to medium, stir and fry for a minute.
  4. Now add the saffron, turmeric, tomato paste, and bell pepper. Give it all a good stir to coat and mix, as much as you can manage.
  5. Add the water, salt and some pepper, stir to mix, and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat right down, cover and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. If you are using boneless chicken thighs, they will be done in 20 minutes. On the bone will need longer, 30 minutes should do, 45 if the chicken thighs are very big. You will know the chicken is done, when the part that’s attached to the bone is coming apart and no longer red.
  6. Check the seasoning, add more salt if you need it, or a little more water if it’s got a little dry. Don’t forget that sauce is going to feed at least 4 people.
  7. Turn the heat off, finish off with a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper and stir the vinegar in.

The Zereshk (Barberries)

  1. Heat the butter in a small frying pan on low heat. Swirl it to coat the pan and to encourage it to melt.
  2. Toss the barberries in, along with the sugar and fry for a minute. The sugar will dissolve and counter the tartness, the butter will take on the flavour of the barberries and the sugar.
  3. Don’t let the butter burn. A minute is all you need here, the barberries will be glistening. Set aside.

To Serve

  1. We dish the rice up onto a large platter by layering it with the barberries. So spread half the rice onto your platter. Scatter half the barberries all over.
  2. Top with the second half of the rice and follow with the rest of the barberries.
  3. Sprinkle the rest of the liquid saffron all over.
  4. You can either serve the chicken stew in a separate bowl or top the rice with the chicken only and serve up the sauce in a separate bowl, as mentioned in the description at the start.

  • Category: Main Course
  • Cuisine: Persian