In a large pot, heat the oil over medium to low heat and cook the onions until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the tomato paste, salt, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and 4 cups water. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and add the chicken pieces to poach for 20 minutes. Drain the poaching liquid and set aside to use as stock. Remove the chicken and keep separately.
Note: If using chicken breasts (opposed to just brown meat pieces like the thighs), remove them from the poaching liquid halfway through cooking so that they don’t dry out.
In a small pan, make a simple syrup with the sugar and 1 cup of water, allowing it to boil only after all the sugar is melted on low heat. Once it is sticky to the spoon or the touch, add the barberries, orange peel, lemon juice and saffron. Simmer together for a minute to infuse. Set aside.
In a large skillet or pot with snug-fitting lid, cook the rice in the chicken stock on medium heat. When the liquid comes to a boil and you can see the top of the rice, place the poached chicken all over, pressing it down gently with the back of a spoon. Then pour the prepared syrup all over it. Cover, ensuring it is airtight, and allow it to cook on very low heat for 30 to 40 minutes until the rice is completely cooked.
Allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Then, serve immediately on a platter.
Tips and tricks
The Persian version (Irani Berry Pollo) is traditionally made as a rice cake, which is overturned on to a plate. It’s prepared by allowing the rice at the bottom of a buttered pot to caramelise and become crisp.
When the pot is flipped over, the tahdig (Persian for “bottom of the pot”, referring to the crispy layer of rice) is then shared by the elders who offer it to the youngest at the family table.
Additionally, almonds, pistachios and sultanas can be scattered over the cooked palau before serving.
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