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Healthy Persian-Style Saffron Chicken

Healthy Persian-Style Saffron Chicken

This is my go to healthy chicken recipe. Many a day I’ve come back home from work completely brain-dead and not knowing what to put on the table for dinner. This easy chicken dish has always saved the day on such occasions and been a healthier option too.

This lovely dish is a cheat’s version of our favourite BBQ saffron chicken skewers (joojeh kabab-e zaferuni). Proper joojeh kabab is saffron-flavoured and has a side of grilled tomatoes and chillies. But you don’t always have the luxury of time to marinate the chicken overnight or nice weather to allow you to fire up the grill to make it the right way, do you?

Don’t let the word saffron put you off. It’s true that it’s a very expensive spice but believe me, a pinch of good Persian saffron will not cost you any more than most bottled marinades and sauces if you know how to use it.

Grind saffron with a small mortar and pestle before soaking in very hot water or adding directly to a dish.
Grind saffron with a small mortar and pestle before soaking in very hot water or adding directly to a dish.

Sometimes I just put the chicken on the table with slightly warmed flatbread (such as lavash or pita) and a plate of mixed fresh herbs (sabzi khordan) . We roll the chicken and tomatoes into pieces of flatbread with some of the lovely herbs like mint, tarragon, spring onions and chives and a pinch or two of tangy sumac. What is there not to like?

At other times I make a pot of lovely Persian steamed rice (kateh)  or even my sumac rice. You can find the recipe for sumac rice in the post Kabab Tabei: Persian Beef Patties in Tomato Sauce with Sumac RiceIt will be scrummy whichever way you serve it. If I’m serving with rice I won’t reduce the sauce too much. I may even add a bit more tomato purée, saffron and water to have more sauce to drizzle over the rice.  

Proper saffron marinated joojeh kabab cooked on the BBQ.

I usually make this dish with chicken breasts or even mini fillets (tenders) to be on the healthier, lower-calorie side but boneless thighs are great to use too. They actually have more flavour so go for it, or even a mixture of thighs and breast meat, if you wish.

The chicken will be done very quickly if you first sear the cubes. They will also be moister inside because searing will lock in the juices. It should look like this when you add the tomatoes:

Chicken breast cubes seared in frying pan.

I love a bit of heat so I usually put some chillies or jalapeños in mine but you don’t really have to. I also like to sprinkle mine with Aleppo pepper (rather mild chilli flakes from the Middle East). You can see that in the picture next to the sumac (on the left).

To serve four people with a side of rice or with flatbread you will need the following ingredients:


  • 4 medium chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 20g butter (or 3 tbsp olive oil)
  • 250g baby plum tomatoes, halved
  • A couple of jalapeños or chillies, sliced (optional)
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron
  • 250ml boiling water


  1. Sprinkle the chicken cubes with salt (and a good grind of pepper if you wish).
  2. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and sear the chicken cubes. The pan must be really hot to sear the chicken. Just a blush of brown would be enough, like in the picture above.
  3. Add the halved tomatoes and sliced jalapeños or chillies, if using. Sauté for a couple of minutes to soften them a little, then add the tomato purée and sauté for another minute or two.
  4. Dissolve the saffron in one tablespoon of the boiling water in a small jar or cup and set aside. Pour the rest of the boiling water over the chicken. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for five minutes.
  5. Add the saffron liquid to the pan and simmer on medium low for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened to your liking. Correct the seasoning and cook for another minute or two.
  6. That’s all! Enjoy!

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