Saffron Chicken Skewers, Persian-Style

Mini fillets make delicious chicken skewers that take only minutes to cook so I always reach for mini fillets when time is tight for dinner. They have very little fat and tend to get too dry with long cooking but if marinated properly and cooked just enough they can be very tasty.

Mini breast fillet happily marinating in a saffron marinade. Then can be left to marinate in the fridge for a day.
Mini breast fillets happily marinating in a saffron marinade. They can be left to marinate in the fridge for a day.

I used a very simple marinade of saffron, sweet smoked paprika, oil, onion juice and lemon juice for my tasty little mini fillet skewers. They looked yummy even raw!

Rolling the mini fillet into snail-shaped balls not only makes them prettier but also helps keep them moister during grilling.

Only a couple of pinches of saffron powder gave the marinade its beautiful golden colour and so much flavour. And who says saffron is expensive (a lady actually said that on the telly last week). I totally disagree!

A gram of good quality Persian saffron will last for ever, even in a Persian kitchen like mine and is not as expensive as everybody thinks. You just need to know how to use it to extract the best flavour, aroma and colour. In my post “How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices” I have explained that in detail.

Grind the golden strands of saffron with a mortar and pestle.

Saffron needs to be “brewed” before adding it to a dish. The best way to do that is to grind the golden strands with a mortar and pestle and add very hot water to it. The colour will be very deep orange but the second it hits rice or other ingredients you’ll get the most gorgeous yellow colour. I won’t say anything about the aroma, you gotta try it for yourself!

You can use this recipe for cooking the mini-fillet skewers on the BBQ or in a griddle pan on the stove. You can also marinate other cuts of chicken (boned small thighs, wings and breast) in the same way. Thighs take considerably longer to cook through. I serve my mini fillet skewers on a bed of quinoa salad with barberries and nuts and grilled courgette slices.

Quinoa with barberries, almonds, pistachios and herbs is a great accompaniments to grilled chicken.

So back to marinating and cooking the chicken. These are the ingredients that you will need to feed four hungry diners:


  • 700-800g chicken mini fillets
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • Pinch of red chilli powder (or more if you like)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Juice of one lime or lemon
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tbsp oil (grape seed or extra virgin rapeseed)
  • Bamboo skewers
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp barberries to garnish (rinsed and dried on kitchen paper)
  • A few pistachio slivers to garnish (or chopped herbs such as parsley and coriander)

How to marinade and cook:

  1. Put ground saffron in a tiny jar and add 1 tablespoon very hot water. Cover and let stand for a few minutes.
  2. Grate the onion or use a food processor to make onion into pulp. Put in a small sieve and press with the back of a spoon to draw the juice.
  3. Put oil, lemon juice, one tablespoon of the onion juice, salt, paprika, chilli and the saffron liquid in a bowl and mix. Add the mini fillets and turn to coat them with the marinade. Let stand for an hour or so. The marinated fillets can be kept in the fridge in a covered dish for a day.
  4. Roll the mini fillets and thread three or four on each bamboo skewer.
  5. If the weather is nice and you have a BBQ cook the chicken on charcoal fire. Just remember to soak the bamboo skewers in water for an hour before threading the chicken on. Be careful not to overcook.
  6. Alternatively, put the griddle pan (or a non-stick coated frying pan) on medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot carefully place each skewer in the pan. Wait a moment for the pan to get hot again before adding another skewer. Cook on one side until golden, turn and cook on the other side until the chicken is cooked through. Test with a fork. The centre shouldn’t be pink anymore. Place the skewers on a serving plate.
  7. Melt the butter in a small pan and brush chicken on both sides generously with the melted butter. Add the barberries to the remaining butter and very briefly cook on medium heat to puff them up. Don’t be tempted to cook too long. They burn easily. Sprinkle the berries and pistachio slivers (or chopped herbs) on the skewers and serve immediately. Enjoy!

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