It’s Ramadan and every few days or so we inevitably end up breaking fast with friends or family at one of the many wonderful iftar sessions, be it at restaurants and five-star hotels. I recently had for a lovely buka puasa with my former colleagues at Dua Sentral, where they brought in some absolutely delicious nasi Arab from Restoran Saba. I had easily two heaping plates of rice and lamb, and it inspired me to try out a Middle Eastern recipe for a change. I scoured around the Net for a recipe that didn’t seem too daunting, and found one by the Queen of Sheba.
Tried it out for breaking fast today. Still plenty of room for improvement, but will definitely make this again and again!
Recipe updated on 22 Aug 2020, and I think I have gotten it right finally. This remains my favorite Nasi Arab recipe. Do give it a try!
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 (about 1.5 kg) whole chicken
- 1 teaspoon hawa’ij spice mix
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons (about 30 grams) melted butter
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cups long-grain basmathi rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
- 1 teaspoon cardamom pods (buah pelaga)
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (cengkih)
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 whole green chillies
- 2 chicken stock cubes diluted in 4 cups water
- 2 cups water (adjust according to the type of rice you are using)
- Yellow OR red food colouring, optional
- 1 small piece natural coal
Place the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons of warm water. Let sit overnight or for at least several hours, until the water turns deep orange.
In a small bowl, combine the hawa’ij spice mix, turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt and melted butter.
Let the chicken sit until it reaches room temperature. Butterfly the chicken then dry using paper towels. It is important that the chicken is dry for the marinade to stick well. Brush the butter and spice mixture generously over and inside the chicken, then cover and marinate for at least two hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (fan 200 degrees C).
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the ghee and olive oil and sautee the onions until soft. Turn off the heat and add the rice, cardamom pods, cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, green chillies, 2 teaspoons salt, the chicken stock mixture and water.
Place a wire rack over the rice pot and then place the chicken on top of the wire rack. Make sure that the pot is larger in diameter than the chicken, so that all juices from the chicken will drip onto the pot.
Transfer the chicken and the pot in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes to first brown the skin, then turn the temperature down to 160 degrees C (fan 140 degrees C).
Continue cooking until the chicken juices run clear, or when the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast is 65 degrees C. My small whole chicken took about 50 minutes. You can use this useful online tool to determine your cooking time; after keying-in the weight of your chicken, because we’re roasting it butterflied, simply halve the time specified after the initial 20 minutes.
The chicken should come out crispy and very tender, falling off the bone. Remove the chicken and rice from the oven and let sit for a few minutes.
Scoop out some rice into a bowl, and add the saffron water mixture. Stir until the rice is evenly coated.
Swirl the food colouring over the remaining rice in the pot, and return the saffron coated rice to the pot.
Stir until the different coloured rice is evenly mixed.
On the stove, heat a small piece of coal (about the size of your thumb) until red hot.
Meanwhile, cut the chicken and place it in the rice pot.
Place a small bowl containing some cooking oil in the center of the rice and chicken.
Then add the red hot coal inside the oil and cover the pot with a lid. It should smoke, giving the rice a smoky flavor.
Serve with some Arabic salsa or sambal Arab. Enjoy!