Belinda Jeffery

Saffron Chicken With Chickpeas, Fennel And Peppers

This is not the most beautiful-looking dish in the world but it tastes wonderful. The warm saffron flavour really shines through and the cinnamon adds an elusive background note. The ideal pan to cook it in is a big, deep heavy-based frypan with a lid (I use a 32cm pan that stands about 6cm high).

  • Serves 4-6.



  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, halved and sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 large red pepper (capsicum), sliced into 1cm wide strips
  • 1 large bulb fennel, sliced into 1cm wide strips
  • 2 very generous pinches of saffron threads
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 medium to large chicken chops* (or 8 chicken thighs, on the bone)
  • 1 x 440g can diced tomatoes
  • 1 x 300g can chickpeas, drained
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • A big squeeze of lemon juice
  • Tiny coriander or parsley leaves, optional

Serve with steamed rice, couscous, or warm pide bread to mop up the juices

* Chicken chops are partly boned thigh and leg portions

Warm the oil over medium heat in a very large, heavy-based frying pan. Add the onions and cook them for about 6 minutes, or until they’ve wilted. Stir in the garlic and chilli and cook everything for 2-3 more minutes. Thoroughly mix in the peppers and fennel. Cook them, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until the strips have softened somewhat. The pan will be quite full initially but the mixture will cook down a bit.

Crush the saffron a little with your fingers and sprinkle it into the pan, along with the bay leaves and cinnamon stick/s. (I usually add 2 cinnamon sticks as I love the flavour, however if you’re not too sure about it, try the recipe with one first – you can always add another next time you make it.) Stir these in and cook everything for another 2-3 minutes.

Now push the veggies aside and nestle the chicken pieces in the pan. Spoon the vegetables back on top of the chicken, then tip the tomatoes and their juice over the lot. Half-fill the empty tomato can with cold water and pour that in too. Scatter most of the chickpeas over the top, reserving some for a garnish. Sprinkle in salt and pepper, then push and poke everything so it partly mixes in.

Bring the mixture to the boil. Then reduce the heat, cover the pan and let everything bubble away gently. After 25 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over, tuck them back into the vegetables and cook them for another 20 minutes.

When the chicken is cooked through, transfer it to a bowl. Scoop out about a third of the vegetables and chickpeas, and add them to the bowl with the chicken.

Check the sauce in the pan and blot up any fat on the surface with paper towels. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Let it bubble for up to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s reduced by about half. Fish out the cinnamon stick (s) and use a potato masher to roughly mash the vegetables and chickpeas. Cook everything for 5 more minutes, or until the sauce is nice and thick. What you’re after is a chunky mixture of partly mashed vegies and chickpeas.

Reduce the heat, taste the mixture, and add enough lemon juice to sharpen it a bit, and more salt if it needs it. Return the chicken and vegetables, along with any juices, to the pan and roll the chicken around so it’s really well coated in the sauce.

You can serve this on individual plates, but it’s such a lovely, rustic dish that I like to serve it family-style so everyone can help themselves. I’ll quite often take it to the table in the pan (having cleaned up the sides a bit first), or scoop it into a warm casserole dish; either way, scatter the reserved chickpeas and coriander or parsley leaves over the top.