My Ottolenghi obsession continues: this saffron chicken salad with fennel has the warm notes of saffron, and the bright piquancy of blood oranges. There’s something about Middle Eastern cooking that fascinates me at the moment. Though I’m normally firmly routed in an Italian sensibility, for the last couple of years Hubby has increasingly cooked dishes from the Indian subcontinent. As a result we’ve become attuned to the subtlety of spices and herbs. Curries and the like can still be a little overwhelming for my Mediterranean palate, but Middle Eastern cuisine sits very comfortably between the two: bright herbs and warm spices, the food is flavoursome, colourful and healthy. Though this dish isn’t a traditional Israeli one, it was born out of that food culture. It can be served on its own, or for a more substantial meal, you could pair it with Persian Jewelled Rice.
1 orange ( I used two small blood oranges)
½ tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
about 300ml water
1kg skinless chicken breast
4 tbsp olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
15g picked coriander leaves
15g picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6.
- Trim and discard 1cm off the top and tail of the orange and cut it into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on. Remove any pips. Place the wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron, vinegar and just enough water to cover the orange wedges. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour. At the end you should be left with soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup; add water during the cooking if the liquid gets very low. Use a food processor to blitz the orange and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; again, add a little water if needed.
- Mix the chicken breast with half the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and place on a very hot, ridged griddle pan. Sear for about 2 minutes on each side to get clear char marks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and place in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until just cooked. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, but still warm, tear it with your hands into rough and quite large pieces.
- Place in a large mixing bowl, pour over half the orange paste and stir well. (The other half you can keep in the fridge for a few days and would make a good addition for herb salsa to serve with oily fish such as mackerel or salmon.)
- Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the olive oil, and toss gently. Taste, add salt and pepper and, if needed, some more olive oil and lemon juice.