Catalan Season Part 2: Chicken Thighs Braised with Almonds & Saffron

Chicken Thighs with Saffron & Almonds

This traditional Catalan dish is amongst my favourites. It’s roots are Moorish, with almonds and saffron, but it is popular both in French and Spanish Catalunya in various forms. My local French bistro makes the sauce separately and then pours it over cooked chicken breast and serves it with rice.

I find that this dish is best when salted roasted almonds are used. If you live near Cambridge, Great Shelford Deli sells the best roasted Marcona almonds that I have ever tasted.

Although the original dish wouldn’t have included tomatoes, I find that their acidity gives a better finish and adds a few jewels of colour. Alternatively you could omit the tomato and add a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds at the end of cooking.

2 slices of Sourdough Bread (about 100g)

105ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 pinches of Saffron threads (very briefly dry fried in a hot frying pan)

150g salted roasted Almonds

12 Chicken thighs (on the bone)

2 Onions (peeled and finely diced)

6 Garlic cloves (peeled and finely sliced)

1 large Tomato (finely diced)

200ml Chicken Stock (or water)

200ml Dry Sherry

1/2 Lemon (juice only)

Small bunch Flat Leaf Parsley (chopped)

Shallow gratin dish (large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer)

Fry the sourdough in 60ml of the olive oil, until it is a deep golden brown. Remove the bread from the pan and drain on a piece of kitchen paper. When it has cooled, break the bread into pieces and drop into a food processor. Crumble-in the saffron threads and add the alomds. Blitz the mixture until smooth.

Place the chicken thighs in a single layer in the gratin dish.

Sweat the onions and garlic in 45ml of olive oil, 3tbsp water and a pinch of salt, in a large saute or frying pan with a lid on over a medium/low heat. Add a little more water if the onions start to colour before they are soft and sweet. This will take around 30 minutes. Remove the lid once the onions are soft and allow any residual water to evaporate. Allow the onions and garlic to fry for a few minutes until they are a light golden. Add the tomato and the sherry and a very generous grinding of black pepper, then bring the pan to a simmer and reduce the liquid slightly. Add the chicken stock (or water) and the bay leaves and bring back to a simmer and reduce the liquids slightly.

Add the almond, sourdough and saffron mixture, and bring the pan back to a simmer then remove the pan from the heat. Spoon the sauce into a gratin dish and then nestle the chicken thighs in the sauce in a single layer. Cover the gratin dish with a piece of baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Braise the chicken until the thigh meat is tender and almost falling apart; this will take around 45mins-1 hour. Remove the parchment paper. Carefully remove the chicken. Stir the parsley and lemon juice into the sauce, adjust the seasoning to taste. Turn the oven up to 180C and return the chicken to the gratin dish. Bake the chicken for another 10 minutes, until it is lightly golden on top. The sauce should have thickened enough to coat the chicken.

This dish is wonderful served with tomato rice and spinach.