2 spring chickens, each weighing about 460g/1 lb
2 tbsps white poppy seeds
2 tbsps sesame seeds
10 black peppercorns
4 green cardamoms
2-4 dried red chillies
150g/5oz thick-set natural yogurt
2 ½ tsps salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground coriander
90g/30oz ghee or unsalted butter
2 onions, finely sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 cinnamon sticks, 5 cm/2 inches long, broken up
6 green cardamoms, the top of each pod split open
4 whole cloves
275g/ 10oz basmati rice, washed and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
570ml/1 pint water
½ tsp saffron strands
2 tbsps ghee or unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Remove the skin and the giblets from the chickens. With a sharp knife, make several slits all over each chicken (do not forget the thighs and the back). Grind the whole spices and mix with the yogurt. Add 1 tsp salt, the turmeric and coriander. Rub half of this mixture into the chicken, making sure that the spices are rubbed deep into the slits. Put the chickens in a deep container, cover and leave for 1 hour.
Meanwhile cook the pilau rice. Melt the 90g/3oz ghee or butter over a medium heat and fry the sliced onions, chopped garlic, cinnamon, cardamoms and cloves, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the rice, stir and fry until all the moisture evaporates in 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining salt, water and saffron strands. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer until the rice has absorbed all the water in 12-14 minutes. Do not lift the lid or stir the rice during cooking. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it undisturbed for about 10 minutes.
Using a metal spoon, carefully transfer about a quarter of the cooked rice to a plate and allow it to cool. Keep the remaining rice covered. Stuff each chicken with as much of the cooled pilau rice as the cavity will hold. Truss the chickens as for roasting, so that the rice stays enclosed while the stuffed chicken is being braised.
Melt the 2 tbps of ghee or butter in a cast iron or non-stick pan. Add the chopped onion and the crushed garlic, stir and fry for 2-3 minutes. Place the chicken on the bed of onions, on their backs, along with any marinade left in the container, but not the marinade which has been reserved. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes; turn the chicken over, breast side down, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn the chickens on their backs again and spread the remaining marinade evenly on each chicken. Cover the pan and cook for a further 30 minutes, turning the chickens over every 10 minutes.
Put the chickens on warmed serving dish and spread a little sauce evenly over the breast. Spoon the remaining sauce round the chickens. Serve the remaining pilau rice separately, reheating it if necessary.