‘Sweet and sour’ isn’t what you think

Gretchen McKay

“Sweet and sour” chicken often brings a saucy Chinese-American dish to mind, but in Iranian cooking, it refers to what goes inside a bird, not on top of it.

Quick and easy, this elegant roasted chicken dish is fancy enough for company, but it also makes a wonderful mid-week meal if you can sneak out of the office a little bit early. (It takes about 11/2 hours to prepare.)

Instead of a traditional bread stuffing, roasting chickens are filled with a savory mix of fruit and onions perfumed with advieh, a warm and spicy spice mix used in many Iranian dishes. It’s exquisite.

If you can’t find advieh at your local grocery store, make your own by combining 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin with 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground rose petal (optional) and ground cardamom.

Sweet and Sour Stuffed Chicken

2 small frying chickens or 4 Cornish hens

11/2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

For filling

1/4 cup butter

1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped

1 apple, cored and chopped

1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons advieh

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

To baste

1/2 cup butter

1/4 fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon ground saffron

Clean and rinse birds, then pat dry. Mix salt, pepper and turmeric and rub birds inside and out with mixture.

Make filling: Heat oil in wide skillet and brown onion and garlic. Add prunes, apple, apricots and raisins, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add salt, pepper, advieh, sugar and melted butter and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stuff chickens with fruit mixture and pin cavities shut. Place in ceramic roasting pan drizzled with oil. Cover with a layer of parchment paper and a layer of aluminum foil on top and seal tight. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally, until meat separates from the bone.

Serve in the dish or arrange on serving platter. Serve with plain rice or flat bread, salad and fresh herbs.

Serves 4.

— “Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies” by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage, 2011)