Fesenjan Persian Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce
Fall is here, and in our little corner of Sacramento, that means walnuts and pomegranates. First the walnuts make an appearance, dropping cleanly out of their thick green husks. If the neighborhood crows are lucky, walnuts will bounce onto the pavement to be run over by passing cars, yielding an instant feast for the birds. If not, the crows will scoop up whole walnuts in their beaks, fly high and drop them, hoping the nuts crack open when they hit the ground.
Next to ripen are the pomegranates. With the shorter days the pomegranates become ruby red, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready. It’s when they start to crack open, revealing the jewels inside, that it’s time to pick.
When my friend Kerissa Barron was over the other day and suggested that we make her favorite Fesenjan, a Persian chicken stew with a sauce of toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses, I couldn’t wait to try it. I never would have thought to make a sauce with walnuts and pomegranates, but it’s a perfect combination. The toasted walnuts are rich and warm and the pomegranate molasses sharp and berry toned. Cooked slowly with the chicken, the sauce is spectacular. Bowl-licking good.
The only ingredient that might be a little unusual is the pomegranate molasses. You can make your own with pomegranate juice, some sugar and lemon juice (see our recipe for pomegranate molasses), or look for it at Whole Foods or a store that carries Middle Eastern ingredients.
- 1 to 2 large yellow onions, chopped, (3 cups)
- 2 Tbps unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1/2 pound walnut halves (about 2 cups)
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into medium size pieces, patted dry and salted
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp plus 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 First toast the walnuts. You can do that one of two ways. You can either spread them out in a single layer in a large skillet, and toast them on medium high heat, stirring frequently until lightly toasted, or you can spread them out in a single layer in a baking rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 350°F in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. In either case, once toasted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pulse in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
2 In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, pat the chicken pieces dry again and place the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Sprinkle the chicken with salt while they are cooking.
3 Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the chicken from the pan, set aside. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low. Add chopped onions to the pan and sauté until translucent, stirring on occasion to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
4 Return the chicken pieces to the pan with the onions. Pour 2 cups of chicken stock over the chicken and onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
5 Stir in the ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses, sugar, and spices. Cover and cook on very low heat for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent the walnuts from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
6 Remove from heat and adjust sugar/salt to taste. At this point the chicken should be fall apart tender.
Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve over parsi pulao or other favorite rice.