This post is longer than most, but then again, there is a lot to say about this wonderful Persian dish.
Another Mark Weins video, this one on a food tour of Iran, brought this dish to my attention. It is called Fesenjan or Fesenjoon and is a stew made with ground walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses. I like walnuts and pomegranate molasses is familiar to me although it was not in my cupboard.
Fesenjan is a feast dish that is traditionally eaten during the Persian holiday Shab-e Yalda, to celebrate the winter solstice and is a pre-Islamic celebration. As with many celebrations, food is a very important thing as families come together. Common foods include watermelon, nuts, dried gruit, and pomegranates. In the historical area know as Khorasan, it was believed that the eating of carrots, pears, green olives, and pomegranates would protect people against biting insects, particularly scorpions.
As usual for me, I looked at many different recipes and as usual again, there are may variations on the theme. Walnuts and some form of concentrated pomegranate juice are the base with each family using different ingredients such as meat selection and spices as tradition dictates.
Chicken is the most common protein but duck is not unusual. At least one reference stated that duck was the original choice. Meatballs are even an option. Some recipes call for just walnuts and pomegranate molasses with water or stock while others use a wide variety of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and cumin plus aromatics onion and garlic. It can be made quite sweet with the addition of sugar, honey or maple syrup. Fruit such as Quince, Apples, and Dates may be included. Citrus in the form of orange peels showed up as well.
For my first try at this, I considered my own palate and included the aromatics plus cinnamon sticks, fresh ground nutmeg (always appropriate), turmeric, and cumin but omitted any fresh fruit or added sweetness. My preference is for Sweet Onions and I always have cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg on hand. Whole cumin pods not currently in stock but I do have fresh tumeric available to me if I can remember to pick some up. On the other hand, there is a fairly large bag of powdered tumeric on the shelf already.
Recipes called for both raw or toasted walnuts but roasted seem more flavorful so I first toasted the walnuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 325°. While that was working, the chicken thighs went into a hot pan 2 at a time to brown, seasoned with salt and pepper. Most recipes called for skinless chicken but that is something I rarely do. Chicken browned in it’s own fat always tastes best to me. The bonus schmaltz when done is a good thing. Many dishes I cook include reserved animal fats for the flavor they impart.
After the chicken was browned, I poured off most of the fat and sweated my chopped sweet onion. When almost done, the crushed garlic went in for just a minute. I was hasty and forgot to add the spices to the aromatics so a bit of extra flavor was missed but there will definitely be a next time for this wonderful dish.
While the chicken was browning, after a bit of time to cool, I blitzed the walnuts in my trusty old school Cuisinart food processor, the one with a big heavy motor and just 2 paddle shaped buttons. Pulse and continuous on are the only choices but that is how I like my food processors, simple and to the point. To those of you who enjoy deciphering just what speed to use to pulverize nuts, have it your way.
After the walnuts were properly blitzed to fairly fine texture, they were added to the aromatics with pomegranate molasses, home made chicken stock, and the spices. My in stock cinnamon had lost it’s lovely aromas so a new batch was purchased with the pomegranate molasses. I used but one stick this time which may be increased. The nutmeg was grated fresh and none of the spices were measured. This is common for me if they are flavors I am familiar with.
Once the mixture had come to a gentle boil, I nestled the four thighs in a ¼ sized steam table pan and poured the sauce over. A piece of foil to cover the top, into a 325° oven for 90 minutes and wait for the reveal.
The chicken was fall off the bone tender and the sauce a wonderful combination of nutty, sweet, and tart. Any extra sweetness would have been too much. It has a taste I have never experienced and is easily the best ‘new’ dish I have made in quite some time. It was taste tested by two friends, one from Brazil and the other from Peru who both made the appropriate yummy noises. Neither had experienced anything like this. They both told me to let them know when I made it again.
My next batch will sub out the walnuts for pecans for another friend who is allergic to walnuts. This is a dish that I will certainly make again and share with others even if it is another example of Ugly Food.
Special thanks to Marie for the sweet, juicy, fresh picked pomegranate, your timing was perfect.
Fasenjan, Persian Walnut Pomegranate Chicken, Feast Food
- 4 Chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
- 2 cups Walnuts, roasted and ground
- 1 cup Chicken Stock, no salt or low salt
- 1 Sweet Onion chopped
- 4 Cloves Garlic or 4 tsp crushed
- ¼ cup Pomegranate Molasses
- Salt and fresh ground Pepper
- 1 Cinnamon stick (can use ground)
- Fresh ground Nutmeg to taste (pre-ground will do)
- Cumin to taste
- Turmeric to taste
- Pomegranate arils for garnish
- Toast walnuts in 325° oven for 10 minutes, when cooled, grind to fine texture in food processor
- Brown seasoned chicken on both sides and set aside, drain all but 1 tbsp fat
- Sweat onions in reserved chicken fat 5-7 minutes
- Add crushed garlic to onions for 1 or 2 minutes only
- Add chicken stock
- Add Add Pomegranate Molasses
- Add spices and stir
- Add walnuts and stir well, bring to a simmer
- Put chicken in an oven ready vessel and pour walnut sauce over the top
- Bake covered in 325° for 90 minutes or until chicken is fork tender
- Serve with rice and garnish with pomegranate arils
- Chicken is most common, but duck or even meatballs work well in this dish
- Can be made on top of the stove but requires fairly frequent stirring to avoid scorching
- If you can make Persian crispy rice (Tahdig), that is the way to go
- Pomegranate molasses or concentrated pomegranate juice can vary quite a bit by brand, some are sweeter or more tart. I used Sadaf but beware opening the cap the first time. Sharp edges are dangerous
- You can make your own pomegranate molasses from juice or fresh pomegranates by cooking the juice down to a syrupy consistency
TRY THIS DISH!
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