4 c cherries, sour, fresh, ripe, pitted (about 2 pounds)
2 c rice, iranian, imported or other uncooked long, soaked and drained
6 T sugar
1/4 c olive oil
8 T butter, melted
2 1/2 lb chicken
1/4 t saffron threads, dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water
1 t salt
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
1/2 c water
1. Combine the cherries and sugar in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan, and, stirring gently, bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the cherries have softened somewhat and given off most of their liquid. Remove from the heat.
2. In a heavy 3 to 4 quart casserole, heat the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Pat the chicken completely dry with paper towels and sprinkle it inside and out with salt. Brown the chicken in the hot oil, turning it frequently with a large spoon or tongs and regulating the heat so that the bird colors quickly and deeply without burning.
3. Place the chicken on a plate and add the onion slices to the oil remaining in the casserole. Stirring frequently, cook for about 10 minutes, or until the slices are richly browned. Return the chicken and all of the juices which have accumulated on the plate to the casserole, add the cup of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.
4. Transfer the chicken to a plate, set aside 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and discard the onion slices. When the bird is cool enough to handle, cut it into 6 or 8 serving pieces.
Meanwhile, bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy 4 to 5 quart casserole with a tightly fitting lid. Pour in the rice in a slow, thin stream so the water does not stop boiling. Stir once or twice, boil briskly for 5 minutes, then drain the rice in a sieve.
5. Pour the reserved chicken cooking liquid and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter into the casserole and stir them together. Add half of the rice and, with a spatula or spoon, smooth it to the edges of the casserole. Cook uncovered over moderate heat for 5 minutes, then remove the casserole from the heat and add the chicken and half of the reserved cherries. Spread the remaining rice on top and pour in all the remaining cherries and their cooking liquid. Cover tightly and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
6. To serve, spoon about a cup of the rice into a small bowl, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter and the dissolved saffron and stir until the mixture is bright yellow. Place a layer of rice on a heated platter. Arrange the chicken on top of it, cover the chicken with the remaining rice and cherry mixture. Sprinkle the saffron rice on top. With a metal spatula, lift the rice crust from the bottom of the casserole and arrange small pieces of it around the edge of the platter.