Chicken with apricots and almonds, or Mahmudiye, is presented in Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul as a classical Ottoman recipe. Slow-cooking meat-based stews with sweet spices and dried fruit evidently was a common practice in Ottoman cuisine, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries (says Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire)… I’m not sure what the link is between the dish and Mahmudiye, the town/district in central Anatolia nor the ship of the line in the Ottoman navy. Wherever the original name stems from, this chicken with apricots and almonds is a delightful, easy, slightly sweet Turkish stew.
From Venice to Istanbul is a beautifully packaged cookbook, that somehow manages to pack extraordinary flavor into relatively simple recipes using easily sourced ingredients. I have a lot of respect for recipe writers who go the extra step of telling me exactly how many grinds of pepper to use. Rick Stein’s writing is uncomplicated but crystal clear. I can come home from work, rummage through the cupboard, chop a couple things and throw them in a pan, then relax for less than hour, at which point I find myself in front of a great meal that would easily cost $15-20 dollars at a restaurant. This chicken with apricots and almonds is no exception. Yes, you might not have currants or saffron, but you probably have raisins and while saffron provides a unique flavor, this dish is still great without it.
There were only two or three tiny quibbles I had with this recipe. First, the header mentions cumin as being common to this type of cuisine, but there’s no cumin in this chicken with apricots and almonds. Weird. Second, while the chicken was nice and tender after 25 minutes of simmering, I thought the sauce was too thin and needed to reduce more. I removed the chicken and let it reduce down for another 7 minutes until it thickened slightly. Third, and likely caused by my decision to reduce the sauce, I found the sauce a little sweeter than I prefer my dinner to be. It was not as sweet before I reduced it, but it wasn’t quite as deliciously complex either. With rice and mixed greens, the sweetness was still there in the sauce but well-balanced. The recipe didn’t specify the type of dried apricot to use. I chose Turkish apricots because I was making a Turkish dish, but California apricots are tangier and less sweet, perhaps they would have been a better choice. Making this again with Turkish apricots, I might leave out some or all of the honey.
Rick Stein’s rendition of chicken with apricots and almonds reminded me a lot of the hanger steak and couscous salad served at Grizzly Peak in Ann Arbor. I daydream about that salad, but until now I’ve never tasted anything quite as similar. Before, I thought replicating it was a lost cause, but now I’m looking forward to recreating Grizzly Peak’s salad at home… using tart dried cherries instead of the apricots, caramelized red onions in place of the shallots, a little harissa instead of saffron, and couscous in place of the Turkish rice.
Original source: From Venice to Istanbul
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
- 12 small shallots, peeled but left whole
- 10 (85 g) dried apricots*
- 3 tablespoons (30 g) currants
- 1 cinnamon stick
- pinch ground cloves
- pinch saffron strands**
- 1 teaspoon (7 g) honey
- juice ½ small lemon (2 tablespoons)
- 1 cup (250 ml) chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 turns black peppermill
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2.2 pounds (1 kg) chicken thighs or 1.7 pounds (750 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 large)
- ½ cup (50 g) sliced almonds, toasted
- To serve: Turkish rice***, couscous, cauliflower rice, or mixed greens
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter, add the whole shallots, and fry gently until they become golden (about 10 minutes).
- Meanwhile, slice the dried apricots into thirds. Add to a medium bowl together with the currants, cinnamon stick, cloves, saffron, honey, lemon juice, chicken stock, salt, and pepper.
- Once the shallots are golden, add the olive oil to the pan, then the chicken thighs. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides. Dump in the bowl full of dried fruit, spices, and liquid. Bring up to a boil, then turn the heat down to reach a gentle simmer. Cover the pan and continue cooking, stirring only a few times, for another 25 minutes.
- While the chicken cooks, make the rice*** or whatever you plan to serve with it.
- Optional sauce reduction: remove the chicken and set aside. Continue simmering the sauce 5-10 minutes until it thickens and reduces by half.
- Serve the chicken immediately, scattered with the toasted flaked almonds and your choice of side.
**Saffron too dear? Don't have it in your pantry? Never fear, even if you omit it, this stew will still taste great.
***To make Turkish rice, heat 1½ tablespoons of butter in a saucepan fitted with a lid. Add ⅓ cup (60 g) of orzo pasta and lightly brown it. Rinse 1 cup (200 g) of medium or long-grain rice, add it to the saucepan together with 500 ml of water. Bring the contents up to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer, add ½ teaspoon of salt, cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, but leave the pan covered another 5 minutes. Serve.