This is an absolutely wonderful dish that is very easy to prepare and requires some advance planning. A yogurt marinade helps tenderize the boneless, skinless chicken thighs, infusing them with saffron and paprika, and a quick frying lends the meat a crispy, minty coating. The chicken must marinate for several hours, or overnight for the best results, before it can be cooked and the marinade contains that costliest of spices, saffron but the wait and splurge are worth it.
½ teaspoon saffron or turmeric*
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried mint
1 Tablespoon salt, more for sprinkling
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup walnut clusters, for garnish
1 lemon, cut into wedges
In a small bowl, combine saffron with 1 tablespoon water and let soak 10 minutes. Place in food processor with yogurt and garlic and purée until smooth and pale yellow. Place chicken in ziploc plastic bag; pour yogurt mixture on top, seal the plastic bag and turn to coat; place the ziploc bag in a bowl and and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight, for the best results.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, paprika, garlic powder, mint, salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour mixture, dip the chicken in the yogurt batter once again and dredge in the flour a second time. Place the chicken on a wire rack and allow the breaded chicken to sit for about 1o to 15 minutes before frying.
Heat a generous half-inch oil in a deep cast iron skillet over medium heat. Drop in a bit of bread to test temperature; oil should bubble vigorously. Working in batches to avoid crowding, fry the chicken until it is golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt and top with walnuts and lemon wedges. Serve with basmati or jasmine rice, family style.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to southwest India.
When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Bangladeshi cuisine, Indian cuisine, Pakistani cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient is curcumin, which has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.
If the primary interest is coloring, there is the suggestion of annatto, as it imparts a beautiful color with essentially no flavor.
Personally, rather than try to a substitute for the saffron, I would continue to use it in those recipes that call for it, especially if it’s key in the flavor profile. For example, saffron pilaf just won’t work without it. If your budget is tight, just make those dishes less frequently and savor them all the more, when you use saffron.