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.

Fesenjan Persian Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

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
  • Salt

Method

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.

fesenjan-chicken-stew-1.jpg fesenjan-chicken-stew-2.jpg

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.

fesenjan-chicken-stew-3.jpg fesenjan-chicken-stew-3.5.jpg

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.

fesenjan-chicken-stew-4.jpg fesenjan-chicken-stew-5.jpg

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.

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Slow cooker pomegranate chicken salad from Lydia of The Perfect Pantry

Fesenjan Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate

49 Comments

  1. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    Chicken fesenjan is one of the first dishes I learned to make after moving to Boston’s South End, which at one time was home to a large Lebanese and Syrian population. The Syrian Grocery carried — and still does — all of the ingredients for Middle Eastern cooking, and my recipe came from the owners of the market, who were happy to share it.

  2. Justin@FigFondue

    this is one of or favorite stews at home, though we make it in a slightly different way. first of all, all the ingredients for the sauce go in separately, but also we stew it for 7 hours or so taking a break in the middle (usually overnight) to let it rest.this allows the walnut oil to rise straight up on top of the stew which adds another dimension of flavor. apparently this is the more traditional way of doing things, but whatever it is, we love it. here’s how we make it:
    http://figfondue.blogspot.hk/2012/04/khoresht-e-fesenjan-pomegranate-walnut.html?m=1

  3. Judith

    Hooo boy! I’m making this Saturday when we have guests for dinner. What’s the difference between cooking on very low heat on the stovetop and cooking at very low temp in the oven?

    Either way will work! ~Elise

  4. Shira

    I just turned this into a 30 minute meal,….. It’s amazing. I did skip the walnuts and turmeric though

  5. Gita

    I love this dish! I haven’t had it since I lived in LA several years ago, where I often had Persian cuisine, at friends’ homes or in restaurants. Thanks for sharing this, can’t wait to try it!

  6. SteffiWeffi

    This is one of the first dishes I ate at my in-laws when my hubby (whose family is from Iraq) and I were engaged.

  7. Vicki

    This dish sounds fabulous and perfect for autumn! Would love to make it this weekend. Can you suggest a substitute for the chicken for those of us who are vegetarians? Thank you!

    Hi Vicki, it’s a slow cooked chicken stew. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how to make this without meat. Alternatively you might want to take a look at the eggplant lentil stew with pomegranate molasses recipe here on the site. It’s vegetarian. ~Elise

  8. Geoff

    Wow. Seriously good and easy to prepare. Served it over spaghetti squash as we aren’t eating rice or wheat products. Seemed a bit soupy so I removed the top and reduced it to more of a stew. Is this dish supposed to be more soup than stew?

    Hi Geoff, It should be more stew-ish than soupy. ~Elise

  9. Lex

    Thanks for posting! I lived in the Republic of Georgia, where they have a similair dish called Satsivi. We always just ate it with the freshly baked bread for dipping, but the rice sounds much healthier. When are you going to put together a cookbook?

  10. Erika

    I made this last night and it was delicious. Unfortunately, I did not have time to cook it for two hours (or longer) but it was quite tasty as a quick meal. Next time I’ll cook it longer as I’m sure the longer cooking time will add to the flavor.

    I added 1/4 teaspoon Advieh which was nice. I think squash would be a good addition or substitution for the chicken.

  11. Fern Slotman

    So, we made this for dinner tonight and we blown away! I served it over basmati brown rice. We enjoyed the different flavors that came out with every bite. I have never worked with pomegranate before so I bought one and peeled it, but it was not very red and ripe. A bit seedy and not much juice. I will have to study about how to pick them out and what to do to get a ripe one. Served it with bowl of tossed salad and because I forgot to pick up a loaf of fresh bread at the store had to settle for crescent rolls. Enjoyed it with a bottle of Tormenta Cabernet Sauvignon. Thank you for this delicious recipe that expanded our culinary borders. And now it’s time to eat the raspberry pie that my hubby made this morning.

  12. A Knesal

    Will certainly try this recipe…thanks!

    Regarding ‘lucky Crows’.

    The Crows will manage by dropping them on the road so cars can run over them. It is an annual feast for them here in Oregon as they nonchalantly pick at the crushed shells while casually getting out of the way of approaching cars.

  13. sara

    This recipe is not the way most if not all of us Iranians make fesanjan. You must grind the walnuts to a a gritty powder then toast it. I have never seen or heard of making fesanjan without grinding the walnuts first. I recommend anyone trying this recipe to not skip this step. It will stew much better and is the authentic and tastier way to prepare this dish.

  14. Hina

    Are the walnuts supposed to be walnuts halves or ground up in the food processor?

    In this recipe we start with walnut halves, toast them, then grind them in a food processor. Another commenter mentioned that another way it is done is to grind the walnuts first, then toast the ground walnuts. ~Elise

  15. Daniela

    I just finished this incredible meal. It took a long time, as I juiced the pomegranates by hand to make the molasses. It was completely worth it; It was warm, nutty, extremely rich, and used some flavors which are not part of my usual cooking repertoire.

    The only thing I changed was reducing the sugar to one tablespoon, and I’m glad I did, as it was perfectly sweet.

    Thank you!

  16. Denise

    My husband made this exactly as written and it was a tasty and savory dish. My son, who favors the sweet over the sour dishes just raved about it. As my husband says when he’s happy with the outcome: “This is a keeper.”

  17. Jenn

    Amazing recipe! I made it tonight and made as described, just made a few modifications. First, I used brown sugar instead of white. Then, since I was using my Le Creuset which gets very hot, I cut the initial braising time by 10 minutes. Last, I sped up the last hour of cooking since I was practically drooling waiting for it to finish. The clincher about this dish and ones like it is in the use of a blender or food processor, so I toasted the walnuts as directed and threw them into a container with the molasses, sugar, and spices and ~1/4c of the chicken broth to be whizzed by my immersion blender. The result was a fragrant paste, and I reduced the initial braising liquid by the amount added in the paste. Just a neat workaround for those of us dreading the use of a Cuisinart! This was a beautiful recipe and now I need to find out how else to use the pomegranate molasses.

  18. Louise Peacocke

    Oh my gosh! This was INCREDIBLE! Unusual and absolutely delicious…it will become now a regular go-to for our suppers. Thank you!

  19. Louise

    Seriously delicious. I don’t usually like much sweet with my savory, but this was nicely balanced. I’ll admit we couldn’t wait the full 2 hours for it to cook – it simply smelled too amazing. Served it over a saffron basmati pilaf and it worked perfectly. Somehow, miraculously, we even had leftovers for lunch the next day!

  20. dave P

    Made this yesterday and it was absolutely delicious. Highly recommended.

  21. Don U.

    We made this last night and all we could say was “Wow”. It was delicious, almost beyond belief. We served it with Israeli couscous, just to promote peace in the region and it was a great combination. By the way, we found the pomegranate molasses at Whole Foods, but it’s also carried at a chain of spice shops called Savory Spices. Thanks so much for the recipe and it will be a regular at our home.

  22. Katie

    I made this dish tonight and it was FANTASTIC!! I made my own pomegranate molasses from organic pomegranate juice. I only had 4oz. of walnuts, but it turned out so good! I’m a caterer and this dish has crowd-pleasing potential!

  23. VG

    Just wanted to say thank you!! My husband made this dish last week and it was incredible!! I’m always coming back to your site for all of the classics, and this one will definitely stay in rotation. Thanks again!

  24. Melissa

    Since someone asked, I’ll offer a vegetarian option. Totally not traditional, I just made it up! But, I made this with northern beans, my usual sub for chicken, and butternut squash, which stews up well and seemed like it would work well with the autumnal flavors described. I left out the additional sugar, figuring the squash would add sugar – when I tasted before serving it definitely seemed sweet enough. Otherwise, though, I made it to instruction and the beans and squash worked well.

  25. Juno

    I’m not supposed to eat chicken – what other meats do you think would pair well with these flavors. Lamb might be too gamy – pork?

    I think duck would be fabulous with this. ~Elise

    • Mohammad

      Hi Juno,
      You may use small meat ball instead of chicken.
      Persian Fesenjan usually made with either Chicken or small meat ball (1~2 cm).
      Also you may use any type of birds meat, such as duck as Elise mentioned above.
      I hope it helps.
      Cheers.

    • Bahareh

      I used precooked seitan, which is vegan. See my comment below.

  26. Joanne

    I LOVE fesenjan! I first tried it a couple years ago. It’s so simple and has such wonderful flavors.

  27. Naz

    So glad to find this here Elise. I’m persian and I rarely find non iranian bloggers post persian dishes. Just a note, this dish doesn’t have cinnamon in it if you want to make authentic fesenjaan.
    To see another variation of this dish (with herbs), read my blog : http://sweetlemonandsalt.blogspot.com/2012/11/anaar-avij-recipe.html

  28. Nick

    Elise!

    This is hands-down one of the top five dishes I’ve ever made – two crazy thumbs up. I’m telling everyone I know about this dish. Made it exact from your recipe (including the molasses using POM juice) and it was beautiful. (I did substitute allspice for nutmeg – just didn’t have any on hand.) Thank you for your wonderful recipes. (Note – for any skeptics – this may not be the most esthetically pleasing dishes – but a magical combination of flavour.)

    Best,

    Nick

  29. RD

    I made this a couple of weeks ago and my wife and I loved it. Served it over short-grain brown rice. I passed it by a friend of mine who immigrated to the US from Iran when she was seven. She in turn passed it by her mother who proclaimed the recipe to be “authentic”.

    I stored the left-over pomegranate molasses in our refrigerator so I could make this dish again when our kids are home for Thanksgiving. How long will the “molasses” keep in the fridge?

    • Elise

      I think I’ve had mine for over a year. Still good. It’s syrup. If it gets moldy, then you have to throw it out. Otherwise, it’s fine. The sugar and acid help preserve it.

  30. dave farmer

    Wow! Sounds like this will blow the “ho-hum, let’s eat something” clear out of the water! I’m way down south in Carolina, so the toasting of the walnuts might involve raising a glass, and they might get toasted a couple of times. Look forward to trying this for the weekend. I don’t know if I can avoid dropping a sweet bell pepper in the pot, I grew probably 200 Lbs. of them this year. Love this website, Elise, thanks!

  31. Richard Blaine

    First off I have never even heard of Fesenjan Chicken before. But it looks incredible! The savory flavor combo of the chicken and the pomegranates looks just delicious! I am going to have to make this dish! Thanks for sharing!

  32. FolSac

    Fesanjan is a great recipe and was originally made with duck not chicken as I believe “duck” is in the name of this dish. If you really liked this dish and would like to try more Persian recipes, I found a great website that I like called Turmeric and Saffron. http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/

  33. James Estrada-Scaminaci

    I made the recipe last night. Very delicious and easy to do. It rivals a dish I love at a local restaurant.

  34. spoons

    This is my go to recipe for the first time I bring a date home. It never fails to impress.

  35. nancy henderson

    Made this last night to share with friends and the flavours were amazing! so totally different than what we’ve been eating lately – a really pleasant change. Was worried a bit about the texture with ground walnuts, but it was so good! Lots of compliments. made the pulao rice too – so many wonderful scents and aromas. Thanks for two more keeper recipes Elise.

  36. MaryAlecia

    Used pecans in place of walnuts; it was delicious!

  37. Ida

    I made this last night, and this recipe is a keeper! Thanks for sharing this. It was super easy to make the pomegranate molasses too. A big hit with my 2 and a half year old too.

    I had hope this would be enough for 2 dinners for 2 adults and one toddler, but it was so good, we all ate a lot! I just have enough left for lunch now.

  38. Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz

    I made this last evening and really enjoyed the complexity of flavors in this recipe. I appreciated the nuance of the nutty walnuts and sweetness from the pomegranate molasses (which I also found easy to make, btw). Thanks for the recipe.

  39. Romy B.

    I have a pot of this on the stove right now; should be ready in about half an hour. About the third time I’ve made it, and thanks for the recipe! Since we like our food spicy, I added some hot red pepper, cumin and ginger to the spice mix. Also added a diced carrot, which works well.

    Might indeed be interesting to try different nuts in a similar recipe — I recently bought a couple pounds of black walnuts, but didn’t quite have the nerve to try them in this context; for me, black walnuts seem to work best in dessert settings, while regular walnuts are good in either sweet or savory concoctions.

  40. Bahareh

    I love this dish! Since going vegan I decided to switch a few ingredients and the dish came out just as good. So for all you VEGANS…. Substitute sugar for brown rice syrup and instead of chicken I used precooked seitan pieces. I also uses pomegranate concentrate instead of molasses and put 10 tbsp. and instead of chicken stock I used vegetable stock. It was a hit! My husband loved it even though he’s not vegan!

  41. Theresa

    This dish is excellent, just made it today and had some company over. They wanted all of the leftovers to take home. I love the pomegranate molasses. I think it is best to make that the day before and chill. Next time I might add small meatballs versus the chicken pieces. Please post more recipes with utilizing the pomegranate molasses. What a nice change.

  42. Kowleen

    Made this tonight as I had made some pomegranate molasses earlier in the week. I did omit the walnuts (didn’t have any) and I added some bulgur to the stew, to make it a one pot meal. I will definitely make this again and make sure I have walnuts.

  43. Jonathan

    Hello,
    I want to make this in a slow cooker. I don’t suppose you could tell me what I should alter in the recipe to adapt it? Thank you!

    Jon

  44. Sharon Richmond

    Made this a last night for our Passover Seder – used ground almonds instead of walnuts, and it was Wow! Thanks, Elise, for another winner.

  45. Clare

    Made this completely from scratch (picked the pomegranates, made juice, turned that into the molasses) and followed the recipe exactly. We loved it. Perfect way to start the Fall!

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