Shakh plov

Olia Hercules

Olia Hercules

4th September 2017

Shakh plov

It never ceases to surprise me how far and wide Yotam Ottolenghi’s influence has reached all around the world. Zulya is a big admirer of his and she told me that her outstanding version of (generally much simpler) Shakh Plov was inspired by Ottolenghi’s quinoa and rice recipe. This is a regal dish, fit for a prince – or your dinner party guests. Cut into the sonorous lavash crust at the table and let the jewelled filling spill out on to a tray. It is actually relatively easy to make, but it will look like you have been slaving all day to produce something this beautiful. This is a meal in itself, so simply serve with a few bunches of soft herbs like mint, dill, coriander and purple basil along with some flavoursome sliced cucumbers and tomatoes in the summer, or with pickled vegetables in winter. Do play around with the filling, too – you can use slow-cooked and gently spiced shredded lamb instead of chicken, or make it vegetarian by substituting briefly roasted pumpkin pieces for the meat.

[Photography: Elena Heatherwick - Food stylist: Olia Hercules - Book credit: Kaukasis: The Cookbook by Olia Hercules was published by Mitchell Beazley on August 10, 2017, £25 (www.octopusbooks.co.uk)]

Ingredients

  • Serves 6–8
  • 300g (101/2oz) Clarified Butter
  • 800g (1lb 12oz) boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs
  • good pinch of saffron threads
  • 50ml (2fl oz) cold water
  • 200g (7oz) banana shallots, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground
  • 80g (3oz) flaked almonds, lightly toasted
  • 50g (13/4oz) dried sour cherries or dried barberries, or a mixture of both
  • 30g (1oz) ready-to-eat dried apricots, sliced
  • 30g (1oz) sultanas
  • 350g (12oz) premium basmati rice, soaked in heavily salted cold water for 2 hours and rinsed well
  • 15 x 20cm (8-inch) thin lavash flatbreads
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • You will also need a deep ovenproof pan 26–28cm (101/2–11 inches) in diameter with a lid

Method

Heat 1 tablespoon of the Clarified Butter in a large frying pan and cook the chicken thighs, in batches, over a medium-high heat until golden all over but not necessarily cooked through. Set the chicken aside, but don’t worry about cleaning the pan, as you will be cooking the shallots in it.
To prepare the saffron, add to the measured water in a bowl and leave to stand on a warm surface – they are cautious with saffron in Azerbaijan, believing that soaking it in hot water kills its flavour.
Melt a few more tablespoons of the Clarified Butter in the frying pan and cook the shallots until soft and lightly caramelized.
Shred the chicken, then add it to the caramelized shallots with the saffron and its soaking water and season well with salt and pepper. Stir in the cumin, flaked almonds and dried fruit, then cover the pan with a lid and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it to cool down a bit.
Meanwhile, fill a large pan with water, add loads of salt and bring to a rolling boil. Add the rice to the boiling water, then wait for it to boil furiously, stirring once. Boil for 7 minutes until al dente, then drain it thoroughly. They use massive colanders in Azerbaijan with a surface area large enough to allow the rice to cool down properly, but instead you can tip the rice on to a large baking tray and spread it out so that the steam escapes and the rice doesn’t overcook.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4.
Brush most of the lavash, one by one, with the remaining melted Clarified Butter – or dip into the butter in a bowl, as they do in Azerbaijan(!), then use to line the base and sides of the deep ovenproof pan, allowing enough overhanging the sides to cover the top when folded over. Build up 3 layers of the lavash with no holes showing, using your judgement as to how many lavash you want to dip into the butter, as you want it all to be buttery but not completely soaking.
Using a large spoon, add the chicken mixture to the lavash pan and then add the rice mixture gently so that it’s not tightly packed in. Carefully fold the overhanging lavash over the rice to encase it.
Cover the pan with the lid and bake for 40 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 160°C (325°F), Gas Mark 3, remove the lid and bake for a further 10 minutes so that the top crisps up.
Using a thick tea towel, very carefully (as some butter might splatter you) tip the plov on to a plate. You should have something that looks like a gorgeous, crispy-skinned pie. Leave it to stand for 5 minutes before cutting it. You should hear a very satisfying crunchy sound.