Saffron chicken
FoodFor Passover or year-round

Saffron chicken

The ingredients are simple, but the time put into the preparation gives a result worthy of your holiday or Shabbat table.

Saffron chicken (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Saffron chicken (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Saffron is a mysterious spice; it’s hard to pinpoint the exact flavor. I use it when I want to elevate a dish for a festive occasion.

I adapted my recipe for saffron chicken to be kosher for Passover, with only one substitution dependent on the side dish chosen. I’m sharing both versions so that you can make it for the holiday and year-round.

The chicken is braised with sautéed onions and mushrooms, white wine, fresh garlic, paprika, saffron and a small bouquet of fresh thyme. The flavors and technique used combine the best of Spanish and French cooking. The ingredients are simple, but the time put into the preparation gives a result worthy of your holiday or Shabbat table.

I prefer to make braised food for holiday dinners because it holds up better when warming or re-heating. The flavors seep in with time, so you can make this a day ahead and rewarm it easily for your meal the following day. Choosing dark meat chicken on the bone is always advised for the same reason: It doesn’t dry out the way chicken breast does. I use chicken thighs, but you can use a mixture of thighs and legs, or even quarters — just add a bit more time for the quarters because they are larger and take longer to cook.

This recipe takes a half-hour to prepare, but once you put it all together, simply let it simmer until it’s ready.


3 pounds of chicken thighs on the bone
2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely chopped or thinly sliced
24 ounces of white mushrooms, washed and sliced
7 cloves of garlic, divided
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
1½ teaspoons sweet paprika, divided
A nice pinch of saffron (about ¼ teaspoon)
A bouquet of 6-8 fresh thyme strands
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock, or leftover chicken soup (as long as it’s not strongly flavored with other spices or herbs)
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons potato or corn starch for Passover; all-purpose flour for year round
1 lemon sliced into wedges
Chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Pat dry the chicken pieces and sprinkle both sides with coarse kosher salt.

Peel and chop/slice the onions to your preference, peel the garlic cloves, and wash and slice the mushrooms. I vary the width of the mushroom slices between thin and ¼-inch wide. If the stems of the mushrooms seem “woody” or dry, remove them and discard. This may seem like a lot of mushrooms, but because they cook down so much, I use a lot.

Measure the wine, chicken stock and spices, and wash the fresh thyme. Do not crush the saffron when measuring. It’s kind of fluffy, and the measurement of ¼ teaspoon takes that into consideration. I use a big pinch and crush it a little between my fingers before adding it to the pot. (Be aware that this step will stain your fingers so, to avoid that, you can crush it a bit with the back of a spoon.)

Set everything aside.

Set a heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove. Make sure that the pan has a tight-fitting lid and is deep enough to hold the ingredients when they are combined.

Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan and warm for 3-4 minutes. When a drop of water dances across the oil, place half of the chicken, skin-side down, in the pan to brown for 5-6 minutes on the top side, then 4 minutes on the bottom side. Remove from the pan, set aside and repeat with the second batch.

As soon as you remove the second batch of chicken from the pan, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and stir in the onions. Sauté for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If they are browning too quickly, turn the flame down to medium.

After 15 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan and stir them into the onions. Sauté and stir occasionally for another 10-15 minutes or until the mushrooms are softened and any liquid in the pan has evaporated.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and mushrooms from the pan, and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Mince 3 garlic cloves.

Add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the garlic, stirring constantly for 1 minute before adding the saffron and paprika to the garlic and oil. Stir well for 1 more minute then add a half-cup of white wine to the pot to deglaze the pot. I recommend using a nice, dry white wine; I would not bother making this recipe with any other kind. Buy something that you’ll enjoy drinking with dinner because you will have a nice amount left to drink.

Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan as the wine starts to simmer.

Once the pan is deglazed, add the rest of the wine and chicken broth to the pot.

Scoop the onions and mushrooms back into the pot and arrange the chicken thighs on top with only the bottom half of the chicken submerged in the juice. The bowls used when you set aside the chicken and onions will have lots of juice in them. Be sure to use a spatula and get every last drop into the pot — you won’t want to miss out on that flavor.

Sprinkle each piece of chicken with more paprika for color and extra flavor.

Tuck the remaining whole garlic cloves into the pot. The garlic will melt in your mouth when this meal is ready to eat.

Turn the flame back up to medium and bring this to a high simmer, where you can see bubbling stock between the pieces of chicken.

Saffron chicken (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Prepare a slurry in a small glass or bowl: Take ¼ cup of lukewarm water and stir in 2 tablespoons of starch (or flour) until it’s well combined. This creates a silky texture for the sauce without making an actual gravy.

Add the slurry to the pot, stir it in with a spoon and reduce the heat to low.

Place the thyme bouquet on one side of the pot on top of the chicken, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or cook covered in a 300 F oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The chicken should fall off the bone, and the mushrooms pair so nicely with this dish. I enjoy this because the flavors are subtle and none overpowers the other.

For Passover, you can serve this over steamed rice if you eat kitniyot. You can also boil or steam 10-12 small golf ball-sized potatoes to serve with the chicken. During the year, I make one package of orzo according to the package instructions.

When ready to serve, squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the chicken. This gives a nice zing to the meal and rounds out the flavor.

You can garnish with chopped parsley and serve an additional lemon wedge on each plate for those who love a sour twist on savory food.

If you make this ahead and need to reheat, refrigerate it in the pot that you cooked it in and place that pot in a 300 F oven to warm for about an hour, or simmer slowly over a low flame on your stove.
Chag kasher v’sameach. Bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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