Sunday, 17 March 2013

Parthian Chicken

Parthian Chicken is the first of two recipes prepared in collaboration with The Podcast History of Our World.  These coincide with the Podcast's episodes on the Persians, providing a taste of life in the ancient Middle-East.  I'll leave it to Rob, the man behind the show, to tell you who the Persians and Parthians were and what they got up to in their free time. (Click here for the companion episode to this recipe)

It's worth noting that whilst this recipe parades itself as Parthian, it actually comes to us from the Late Roman Apicius collection of recipes.  As such, we cannot be certain whether this was the real deal, or just a Roman knock-off of Persian food.  What makes it 'Parthian' is the use of Asafoetida - when silphium was farmed to extinction in Libya, it was Persian asafoetida which took its place.  At the very least then the recipe does include ingredients native to ancient Persia.  Whilst we can never know how authentic the recipe truly is, we can still give it a go and decide whether 'Parthian' is the way to go.

Parthian Chicken
(Serves 2)

Prepare and dress some chicken.  Grind pepper, lovage, and caraway seeds, moisten them with fish sauce, and add wine to taste.  Put the chicken into an earthenware pot, pour the seasoning over, and add some wine and laser.  Braise the chicken, and when it is finished, sprinkle with some pepper and serve. - Apicius, 6.9.3


  • 4-5 Chicken Thighs
  • 1/2 Leek
  • 180 ml Red Wine
  • 2 tbsp Fish Sauce (Liquamen)
  • 1/2 tsp Asafoetida (Laser)
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Lovage Seed
  • Either 2 tsp Caraway Seeds or 1 tsp Cumin Seeds & 1 tsp Fennel Seeds 


  • Wash the chicken and place it into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle it quite liberally with black pepper.
  • Wash the leek and slice it into pieces as shown in the picture below.  Add these to the dish with the chicken.
  • Toast the caraway seeds (or the cumin and fennel) and grind them up with the lovage seeds using a mortar and pestle.
  • Mix the wine, fish sauce, asafoetida, and crushed spices together in a jug.  Pour this mixture over the chicken.
  • Cover the dish and put it in the oven for one hour at 180 Celsius.  For the last half hour, uncover the chicken to allow it to brown and crisp up.  Baste it with the sauce every 10 minutes or so.
  • To serve, remove the chicken and sprinkle it with some more black pepper.  Pour a tiny bit of the sauce over.  Serve with a spoonful or two of home-made date paste - the sweetness works perfectly with this dish.


  • I didn't have caraway seeds when I made this, but found that mixing cumin and fennel seeds was a pretty good approximation.


Food fit for a Shah!  Parthian Chicken was very different from typical Roman recipes in that it contained no sweetener whatsoever.  The lack of sweetener, and the use of leeks, fish sauce, and asafoetida, resulted in a savoury dish, with a hint of bitterness from the lovage, and a touch of heat from the spices.  When I picture the East I picture vivid colours and complex flavours, so this beautifully simple meal came as a surprise.  The chicken was cooked to perfection - wonderfully crisp on the outside, and juicy and succulent on the inside.  The recipe's simplicity make this the perfect introduction to ancient Persian cuisine.


  1. Looks delicious! Now, why does not someone open a modern restaurant, serving these wonderful ancient foods? With each dish, if the diner wanted, would come a write-up, as above, with pics, and autographed by the chef? (even the porridge would sell -- for breakfast, of course!)

    1. Find me an investor and I'll open one up ASAP!

  2. Wonder what happened to the last one in London?...

    1. Only just had a chance to view your link - we need more Roman restaurants I reckon.

  3. I just made this for lunch (using skinless chicken thighs). It was indeed very tasty. Next time I will use skin-on thighs, and I think I'll reduce the wine quite a bit, or thicken the sauce, so more of it can be used.

    1. Excellent! Did you have any dates to sweeten it with?

  4. If you need caraway seeds just tell me. In Poland it is one of the most popular spice. I can send you a pack or two - no charge. I just need your address. Greetings from Warsaw.