Rinse rice 3 times, then soak in warm water with 1/4 cup salt for 5 hours. Drain.
Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add chicken, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat 60 until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat. Pull meat off bones; cut in 2 in. pieces and return to leftover cooking broth. Cover to keep warm.
Rinse barberries (if using) 3 times. Melt butter in a small pot; add barberries and sauté 1 minute. Add sugar; sauté 1 minute more. Dilute saffron in 1/2 cup hot water and stir into barberries.
In the large pot used to cook the rice, heat 3 Tbsp oil. Add rice, using a large spoon and fluffing rice. Pour barberry mixture over the rice.
Cover pot and cook over low heat about 30 minutes. For a crisp, golden layer on bottom of rice (called ˜ta-dig'), cook another 15 minutes.
Using a large serving spoon, place rice in a large flat serving dish, gently mixing the barberries with the rice. Top with the chicken and serve.
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