I love cooking with saffron. It all started with wanting to make my friend Persian saffron rice; from there, a new recipe was born.

We have not had chicken in a while, and as I was perusing some old magazines from this summer, grilling was all over the pages.

As you may have noticed, I do not grill often, but this made me need to marinate some chicken and cook it over very high heat to give it that excellent charred feel and look. My version of grilling inside.

Seeing that I was going to make the saffron rice, it just was to add saffron to the chicken. Because the saffron is slightly bitter, the sweetness of the honey is the perfect pairing.

I have subdivided this recipe into two parts: the chicken and the rice.

Saffron lemon chicken with Persian Saffron Rice

Marinating the chicken

I use chicken thighs and leg drums. Of course, you can also use chicken breasts. My advice would be to split the chicken breasts in half.

The marinade is super easy to prepare, and you will enjoy the garlic, saffron threads, melted butter, lemon juice, and honey.

If you want, you can add some mayonnaise. The mayonnaise tenderized the meat as well.

If time permits, I strongly suggest leaving your chicken marinating overnight. This step will allow the marinate to infuse itself into the meat’s fibers. Make sure you turn it in once or twice.

Do not remove the skin. Even though many people do not eat it, I am not one of them.

When you cook chicken, the skin is an excellent barrier between the fire and the meat. The meat does not burn or dry but contrary, gets a fantastic flavor.

Add your own choice of herbs if you wish. May I suggest thyme, chives, rosemary, or parsley?

Saffron lemon chicken with Persian rice

How to cook Persian Rice

Here is the challenge starts but do not let it stop you. How daunting this may sound, do not let it stop you from enjoying a fabulous dish.

This rice is one of our favorites. Persian white rice is cooked slightly differently than other’s kinds of rice.

The rice is soaked, cooked, and then pan-fried to create a perfectly crispy golden crust, Tadeg, on one side, and fluffy, buttery, and tender rice on the inside. The Tadeg is what we all go after. The crispier, the better.

My beautiful friend Saman showed me how to make this impressive and unique dish. Here are some tips that she shared with me:

  • Let the rice rest in plenty of salted cold water for a couple of hours. Drain the rice once in between the hours.
  • The above step will allow the water will penetrate each grain of rice and give it the right amount of moisture it needs. This also will allow cooking evenly of the rice.
  • In a large pot of boiling water, add the drained rice.
  • When parboiling the rice, ensure it still has a bite or al dente. Soft rice will become mush.

Saffron lemon chicken with Persian rice

Soaking the saffron

Use hot water and let the saffron steep for at least 20 minutes. You want to give all the strands enough time in the water to release their beautiful color.

Start with this step; the longer it steps, the better it will infuse your rice.

What is saffron?

This fragrant, most famous spice originated from a flower called crocus sativus, also known as the saffron crocus.

It is believed to have originated in Greece. However, today it is mainly grown in Iran, Greece, Marocco, and India.

You will find it under lock and key due to the high price. Each threadlike red strand is collected by hand, thus the high price combined with the fact that it blooms for only one week each year.

The strands of saffron must be red stigmas and no yellows stamens.

You may be tempted to purchase ground saffron. I would recommend buying the strands. Being pricy, you do want to see what you are buying.

Saffron lemon chicken with Persian rice

Preparing the onion mixture

This is one of my favorite parts as I play with flavors to enhance my rice dish.

Almonds, cranberries, dates, and more saffron strands are used.

Prepare this as the rice is soaking and set it aside until ready to use.

Layering the rice and the final cooking steps

Once the onion mixture and the rice are ready, we are ready to move along to the final cooking step for this saffron rice recipe.

Use a shallow round dish for cooking the rice with a well-fitted lid. You want to trap the steam. I place a kitchen towel. Make sure that the flame or heat source does not touch the towel.

Place half of the rice over the bottom of the pot., spreading it well. Add all the mixture you want to in the middle and spread it evenly.

Cover with the remaining rice. Spread all the saffron mixture, and add some butter and oil. Cover and cook.

Do not touch it and let it cook. You will know it is done once the sides start to get golden and separate from the sides.

Gently invert into a serving dish. Once you start serving it, you will see the beautiful golden rice trapping the onion mixture. Love with each bite.

The golden, crispy saffron rice is what we all are fighting after. And if you have ever had that excellent crusty rice, you are in for a sure treat.

You can serve this rice with chicken as I have here, or lamb, Mediterranean stews, and fish.

Final note.

If you want to invest and make this dish often, you can use a unique Persian rice cooker. It will create that tremendously crisp bottom that you are looking for.

I will not recommend using your regular rice cooker as it will never crisp your rice.

Saffron lemon chicken with Persian rice

Looking for other delicious recipes?

Why not try making:

Potatoes Crusted Sea Bass with Saffron sauce

Asparagus and Saffron Farfalle Pasta

Rice with Dried Cranberries

Turmeric Linguine with Shrimps and Saffron Sauce


Products and Equipment used to make this recipe

Saffron Lemon Chicken with Persian Saffron Rice

5 from 10 votes
Saffron lemon chicken with Persian rice
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Marinate: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 40 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Savory saffron lemon chicken with the perfect Persian rice. A true delight!



  • 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove of garlic 1 clove of garlic grated
  • 1 saffron 1 large pinch of saffron
  • 2 tablespoons honey 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 lemon 1 lemon juiced
  • 6 chicken 6 chicken thighs and drumsticks mix, skin on
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon olive oil


  • ¾ cup long-grain Basmati rice ¾ cup of long grain Basmati rice
  • 2 cups onion 2 cups onion chopped
  • cup dried cranberries ⅓ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ¼ cup almond ¼ cup almond, chopped
  • ½ cup dates ½ cup pitted dates, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon saffron strands 1 teaspoon of saffron strands
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons butter 6 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper salt and pepper



  • Melt the butter in a small pan, stir in the garlic and saffron, and cook over low heat for a few minutes. Stir in the honey and lemon juice. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Season the chicken pieces on both sides with salt and toss in a shallow dish with the marinade. Marinate overnight, turning it once.
  • Remove from the refrigerator and allow it to be at room temperature.


  • In a small container, place the saffron strands and add 1 cup of hot water. Set aside
  • In a large pan, add the rice ,cover it with water and add salt. Let it stand for A couple of hours.
  • Rinse the rice and change the water one more time. Let it rest for another 30 minutes. Rinse and set aside.
  • Bring a boil to a large pot of salted water and cook the rice for about 5 to 8 minutes or until it still has a bite, al dente. Do not let it go soft. Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt and warm up the two (2) tablespoons of olive oil and one (1) tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and gently cook them until translucent.
  • Add the cranberries, almonds, and dates. Season with salt and pepper. Stir into all the ingredients that are well incorporated.
  • Serve alongside the chicken.


  • Let the rice rest in plenty of salted water for a couple of hours. Rinse the rice once during the process. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large pot bring water to a full boil. Add the drained rice and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Your rice needs to be al dente. Drain when done.
  • In a shallow round pan with a fitting lid, place one (1) tablespoon olive oil and two (2) tablespoon butter. Add half of the cooked rice and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the onion mixture to form a layer. Cover the mixture with the remainder of the rice.
  • Spread the saffron with the water all over it. Add ¼ cup more water to the pan.
  • Add the remaining oil and butter on top of the rice. Place over medium-high heat covered and ensure all the steam stays inside. Place a towel between the pan and the lid. Let it cook without touching it until the sides are turning a nice golden color.
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the olive oil and warm over medium-high heat. Add the chicken skin side down first and sauté until the skin is super crispy (It will look burned as expected because of the honey).
  • Turn and cook the other side. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking the chicken until done.
  • Remove the lid, invert on a large serving platter over the pot and carefully flip over. Not to worry if it sticks, as you can scrape it and add it to the plate.


Calories: 714kcal | Carbohydrates: 71g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 48g | Saturated Fat: 19g | Cholesterol: 68mg | Sodium: 232mg | Potassium: 378mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 31g | Vitamin A: 787IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 71mg | Iron: 1mg

Giangi's Kitchen provides nutritional information, but these figures should be considered estimates, as a registered dietician does not calculate them.

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Originally posted on November 17, 2020. Updated on September 7, 2022