Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh: A Delicious Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken Recipe

by - June 15, 2024


Plate of Zereshk Polo Morgh with saffron rice, barberries, and chicken, accompanied by traditional Persian Rose Tea

Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh

Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh - The Perfect Festive Dish for Eid al-Adha

A Delightful Culinary Journey

    Last year, while dining at an Iranian restaurant in Georgia, I discovered the delightful dish of Zereshk Polo Morgh. This experience inspired me to recreate this Persian classic at home. Despite the challenge of sourcing barberries, the effort was worth it. With Eid al-Adha/Hari Raya Haji around the corner, there's no better time to share this exquisite recipe with you.

The Origins of Zereshk Polo Morgh

    Zereshk Polo Morgh is a traditional Persian dish that translates to "Barberry Rice with Chicken." This dish is a beautiful blend of flavours and textures, featuring tart barberries and fragrant saffron rice, paired with succulent chicken. The term 'polo' (pronounced 'pawlaw') refers to Persian rice dishes mixed with other ingredients, in this case, barberries. These edible red berries, rich in vitamin C, add a unique tartness that makes this dish stand out. 'Morgh' means chicken, typically served poached or stewed in saffron sauce, either layered through the rice or served on the side.

Zereshk Polo Morgh on a plate featuring saffron rice, barberries, and chicken, with a side of Persian salad.

Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh

What Makes Zereshk Polo Morgh Special?

    Zereshk Polo Morgh is a sweet and sour dish with barberries gently sautéed with sugar and saffron water before being added to the rice. The result is a visually stunning and flavourful dish, perfect for festive occasions like Eid al-Adha. The crispy rice at the bottom of the pot, known as tahdig, adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish, making it even more special.

Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish  
Keyword: family recipes, chicken, saffron 
Serves: 4 
Author: SM  

Preparation Time: 20–30 minutes 
Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Zereshk Polo Morgh - Iranian Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken Recipe

Zereshk Polo Morgh on a plate featuring saffron rice, barberries, and chicken, with Persian Rose Tea

Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh


For the Saffron Chicken:

4 Chicken Breasts/Thighs (with skin)
1 medium Onion (finely sliced)
1 tablespoon Tomato Purée
1tablespoon Greek Yoghurt
2 tablespoon Oil (for the marinade)
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1/8 teaspoon Ground Saffron (bloomed in 2 tablespoons of water)
1/2 Lemon (juice squeezed)
Salt and Pepper (to season)


To Cook the Chicken:

25 grams Butter (to cook the chicken)
2 tablespoon Oil (to cook the chicken)


Blooming the Saffron:

1/2 teaspoon Ground Saffron
Ice cubes

 For the Rice:

2 cups White Long Grain Basmati Rice (approx. 400g)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
2 tablespoon Ghee or Butter
1/8 teaspoon Ground Saffron (bloomed in 2 tablespoons of water for the tahdig - crispy rice)
1/4 teaspoon Ground Saffron (mixed in 2 teaspoons of rose water and 2 tablespoons of water for the saffron rice garnish)


For the Barberries:

5 tablespoon Barberries (washed)
2 tablespoon Caster Sugar (or more if you prefer it sweeter)
1/8 teaspoon Ground Saffron (bloomed in 2 tablespoons of water)


Method - Step-by-Step Guide to Making Zereshk Polo Morgh:


Chicken Marinade:

  • Place chicken breasts/thighs in a large bowl.
  • Add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, oil, turmeric, saffron, and lemon juice. Mix until evenly coated.
  • Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours (preferably overnight).

Blooming the Saffron:

Close-Up of Ground Saffron Blooming with Ice Cubes in Stone Mortar

Blooming the ground Saffron with Ice Cubes

  • Place the saffron in a mortar and pestle. Muddle the saffron until it is well ground.
  • Add a few ice cubes to the mortar and continue to muddle until the saffron is fully incorporated and dissolved into the ice water.

Close-Up of Bloomed Saffron Water in Stone Mortar

Close-Up of Bloomed Saffron Water in Stone Mortar

  • Use the saffron water as needed in your recipe.


Rice Preparation:

  • Wash the rice in water until the water runs clear.
  • Soak the rice with salt in a bowl of cold water, covering it by 2 inches. Leave for at least 30 minutes.


Making the Sweet and Tart Barberries:

Cooked Barberries with Rose Water and Pistachios - The soul of Zereshk Polo Morgh

Cooked Barberries with Rose Water and Pistachios - The soul of Zereshk Polo Morgh

  • In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat.
  • Add barberries, sugar, and bloomed saffron water. Stir for 30 seconds, then set aside.



A close-up image of saffron rice garnished with barberries and rose petals, with a partial view of chicken and salad on the side.

Close-up of Saffron Rice Garnished with Barberries and Rose

Cooking the Perfect Persian Rice:

  • Fill a large non-stick/heavy bottomed pan with enough water to cover the rice and salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Drain the soaked rice and add to the boiling water. Stir gently to prevent sticking. Cook until the rice is al dente.
  • Drain the rice and leave it aside.


How to Achieve the Perfect Tahdig (Crispy Rice): 

A close-up image of tahdig, the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot, served on the side of a platter.

Close-up of crispy Tahdig Served on the Side

  • In the empty saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of oil and the bloomed saffron for the tahdig. Mix to distribute the saffron evenly.
  • Spoon in 2–3 ladles of rice into the saucepan, mix with saffron oil, and pat flat. Layer the rest of the rice. (Reserve about 2 ladles of rice).  Poke a few holes in the rice.
A step in the rice cooking process where cooked rice is placed in a saucepan with holes poked in it, ready for saffron water infusion.

Cooked Rice ready for Saffron Water Infusion

  • Mix the reserved rice with bloomed saffron and gently spoon it to one side of the white rice.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons of cold water and 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the rice. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and then place the lid and cook on high until steam rises, then reduce to the lowest setting. Let it cook on the lowest setting for at least 45 minutes.
A saucepan covered with a clean kitchen towel before placing the lid on for cooking.

Sauce pot Covered with a Clean Kitchen Towel

Cooking the Chicken:

  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C (fan) / 200˚C (conventional) / Gas mark 6.
  • Season the marinated chicken with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Add a drizzle of oil and place chicken breasts/thighs skin-side down. Cook until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.
  • Flip the chicken, add 25 grams of butter, and baste with the melted butter for 1 minute. Flip back to skin-side up.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes, until the chicken thighs turn soft and juicy. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Assembling Zereshk Polo Morgh

Layering the Barberry Rice:

  • Once the rice is cooked, remove the lid and spoon the saffron-coloured rice into a separate bowl. 
    A very close-up image of saffron rice mixed with barberries and pistachios.

    Close-up of Saffron Rice Mixed with Barberries and Pistachios

  • Cover the pan with a large plate and gently turn the pan upside down. 
    Flipping Saucepot to Plate Saffron Rice - Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh Recipe

    Flipping Sauce pot to Plate Saffron Rice - Iranian Zereshk Polo Morgh Recipe

  • Spoon the tahdig separately and reserve it for serving.
  • Reheat the barberries for 30 seconds and keep them ready for serving.
  • Spoon the rice onto a platter, garnishing it with saffron rice & barberries.
  • Plate the Saffron Chicken & tahdig at the side of the Rice.

Notes and Tips:

  • Adding Crunch with Pistachios: For an extra crunch in your Zereshk Polo Morgh, consider adding a handful of chopped pistachios to the saffron rice just before serving. 
  • Blooming Saffron: To achieve the best flavour and colour from saffron, grind it finely and bloom it in cold water or ice cubes for at least 15 minutes before use. 
  • Perfecting Tahdig: To ensure a crispy tahdig, use a non-stick pot and monitor the cooking time closely. Once cooked, let it rest for a few minutes before flipping to serve. 
  • Adjusting Sweetness: Taste the barberries (zereshk) before adding to the dish; if they are too tart, soak them briefly in warm water and drain before use. 
  • Serving Suggestions: Serve Zereshk Polo Morgh with a side of fresh herbs, such as mint or parsley, and yoghurt for a traditional Iranian meal experience. 
  • Enhancing Presentation: Garnish the dish with additional barberries and a sprinkle of chopped parsley or pistachios for an appealing presentation. 
  • Enjoying Leftovers: This dish reheats well and can be enjoyed the next day; store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions

  • The key to serving Zereshk Polo Morgh is to showcase the vibrant saffron and barberry layers.
Close-Up of Persian Salad on Platter with Saffron Rice

Close-Up of Persian Salad on Platter with Saffron Rice

  • Accompany this dish with traditional Persian sides like Torshi (Persian pickles), Maast O'Khia (Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip), or Salad Shirazi (Persian chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad).

Plattered Zereshk Polo Morgh with Persian Salad and Tea - Authentic Iranian Cuisine

A Persian feast - Zereshk Polo Morgh with Persian Salad and Tea  - Authentic Iranian Cuisine

    Celebrate with Zereshk Polo Morgh Explore the rich tapestry of Iranian cuisine with this delightful recipe for Zereshk Polo Morgh, a cherished Persian dish perfect for festive occasions like Eid al-Adha. Originating from Iran, this recipe blends the fragrant flavours of saffron-infused rice with succulent chicken, sweet & tangy barberries and crunchy tahdig creating a symphony of tastes and textures. Whether you're a connoisseur of Persian recipes or new to the delights of Iranian cuisine, this dish promises to impress with its vibrant colours and aromatic appeal. Celebrate your next gathering with this exquisite dish, guaranteed to evoke the spirit of celebration and cultural richness of Eid al-Adha. Happy cooking and Eid Mubarak!



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