Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon
If you like the distinctive flavor of saffron, this Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon is a traditional way to use it, and this delicious chicken is a classic dish!
Have you ever cooked with saffron? It’s widely acknowledged to be the most expensive spice in the world, but you only need a tiny pinch to add delicious flavor to famous dishes like Paella and Saffron Rice. And one of the most traditional dishes made with saffron is this delicious Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon which I first tasted when my Iranian friend Massoud made it for me many years ago.
Today I’m excited to be updating this popular recipe with better photos, and a few minor changes that I think make this recipe a bit more authentic. I decided it was a sign that I should update the recipe after my friend Mary Caputo brought me some Saffron from Turkey, thanks Mary!
Saffron is probably an acquired taste, but people crave it all over the middle east, and I think the saffron flavor is so delicious in this Saffron Chicken.
What Ingredients Do You Need For This Recipe?
(This is only a list of ingredients; please scroll down for complete printable recipe. Or if you use the JUMP TO RECIPE link at the top of the page, it will take you directly to the complete recipe.)
- boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts, although thighs are more traditional)
- Olive Oil (affiliate link)
- butter (or use all Olive Oil for dairy-free version)
- Saffron, (affiliate link)
- homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth (affiliate link)
- fresh-squeezed lemon juice; I used my fresh-frozen lemon juice
- fresh parsley
What chicken parts should you use for Saffron Chicken?
When I first made this recipe for the blog I consulted Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World (affiliate link) and tried to remember how Massoud had done it. And in those days I made the recipe with cut pieces of chicken breast, which was not traditional but still tasty if that’s what you prefer. For the updated version I did a little more online research and ended up using chicken thighs for a more authentic Saffron Chicken recipe.
Why is Saffron so expensive?
There are a few reasons why Saffron is so expensive. First it’s very labor-intensive to harvest. It comes from the stigmas of the crocus plant, and each flower only produces three threads, so it might take thousands of flowers to get just one ounce of saffron. Also, the saffron threads are delicate, so they have to be harvested by hand. Be cautious when buying Saffron, because if it’s too inexpensive it may not be good quality or could have other spices mixed in. If you want to learn a lot more about saffron, check out my friend Lydia’s great post about it at The Perfect Pantry.
What does Saffron taste like?
- I’m not good at describing flavors, so I consulted google to see how food experts describe the flavor of Saffron. Interestingly enough, many experts say that Saffron has a distinctive flavor that’s unique and had a hard time describing it.
- The Food Network says, “Saffron has a subtle earthy-sweet flavor profile with a tinge of bitterness on the tongue that gives way to delicate floral and honey notes.”
- Greatist says the flavor of Saffron is difficult to describe, but goes on to say “You might call its flavor smoky, heady, or bright. Floral, but in a musty way. Earthy, but sweet.”
- One thing that was clear at all the sources I looked at is that like many other foods, Saffron tastes different to different people.
What can you use to replace Saffron if you don’t want to buy it?
The flavor is not exactly the same of course, but the spice that is most recommended as a replacement for Saffron is Ground Turmeric (affiliate link), which is what gives curry powder the yellow color. This will give your chicken a nice flavor and the traditional golden color that you get from Saffron.
Another delicious idea for using Saffron:
If you’re interested in another amazing recipe with saffron, you may enjoy trying Salmon Packets with Tomatoes and Olives, which is something I’ve made many times for guests..
How to Make Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon:
(This is only a summary of the steps for the recipe; please scroll down for complete printable recipe. Or if you use the JUMP TO RECIPE link at the top of the page, it will take you directly to the complete recipe.)
- Trim chicken thighs (or breasts), removing fat and undesirable parts. Cut thighs in half or cut breasts into 2 or 3 pieces.
- Peel onions and slice into slivers. Chop parsley.
- Heat oil and butter in a heavy pan and brown chicken pieces using medium-high heat. Don’t completely cook the chicken at this point.
- Remove chicken to a plate, add the slivered onions to pan, and cook over medium heat until onions are nicely browned. Remove onions to another plate.
- Heat chicken stock until it’s very warm, then stir in the saffron.
- Put chicken back into pan, arrange onions over the chicken, and pour the saffron-infused chicken stock over.
- Cover the pan and cook at a very low simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
- Then add the lemon juice and parsley and simmer about 10 minutes more, uncovered.
- Serve hot.
- This is traditionally served with rice and it would be amazing with my Greek Lemon Rice if you don’t mind a mix of food cultures and some carbs. See serving suggestions below for a low-carb meal.
Make it a Low-Carb Meal:
This Saffron Chicken would be delicious with Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan, Garlic-Roasted Green Beans with Shallots and Almonds, Cauliflower Rice with Garlic and Green Onions, Roasted Turnips, or Stir-Fried Spinach with Garlic and Parmesan for a low-carb meal.
More Chicken with International Flavors:
- Instant Pot Chicken Tinga
- Greek Lemon Chicken
- Chicken Shawarma Wrap
- Paprika Chicken
- Instant Pot Teriyaki Chicken
- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see notes)
- 2 yellow onions
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 T butter
- pinch saffron (about 1/2 tsp. or slightly less if you're not sure how much you like the flavor of Saffron)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (see notes)
- 2 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice (see notes)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- Trim the boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts) to remove fat and undesirable parts. Cut thighs in half (or cut breasts into several pieces, depending on how big they are.)
- Peel onions and slice into slivers. Chop up the parsley
- Use a heavy frying pan which has a tight-fitting lid. Heat the olive oil and butter, then brown the chicken quickly over medium-high heat. (Don’t let it cook too long at this point; the chicken does not need to be cooked through.
- Remove chicken to a plate, add onions to the pan (with a bit more olive oil and butter if needed), and brown onions over medium heat until edges of onions are turning golden, about 8-10 minutes. Remove browned onions to another plate.
- Heat the chicken stock (I did it in the microwave) until it’s very warm, then stir in the saffron.
- Put the chicken back into the pan, arrange the onions over the chicken, and pour the saffron-infused chicken stock over.
- Cover the pan and cook over a very low simmer for about 15-20 minutes without turning the chicken
- Add chopped parsley, lemon juice, and a tiny bit of additional water if needed, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes more.
- Serve hot.
If you prefer using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, use four medium-sized breasts and cut each one into two or three pieces.
I would always use my homemade chicken stock if I had some in the freezer, but canned chicken broth will be fine for this. I would use my fresh-frozen lemon juice.
This recipe is from my friend Massoud and from tips in Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 452Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 283mgSodium: 769mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 56g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by the Recipe Plug-In I am using. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee 100% accuracy, since many variables affect those calculations.
Low-Carb Diet / Low-Glycemic Diet / South Beach Diet Suggestions:
This recipe would be suitable for low-carb, Keto, low-glycemic, and gluten-free diets. Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon made with boneless-skinless chicken breasts would be approved for any phase of the original South Beach diet. South Beach would prefer limited amounts of butter, but you could use more butter if you’re following a low-carb/high-fat eating plan.
Find More Recipes Like This One:
Use Chicken Recipes to find more recipes like this one.Use the Recipes by Diet Type photo index pages to find more recipes suitable for a specific eating plan. You might also like to follow Kalyn’s Kitchen on Pinterest, on Facebook, on Instagram, on TikTok, or on YouTube to see all the good recipes I’m sharing there.
Historical Notes for this Recipe:
This Saffron Chicken recipe was first posted in 2005, probably without a single photo. The photo above is from 2011, and can you tell I tried to make the new photos similar since this recipe has been so popular. The recipe was updated with new photos and better instructions in 2023.