Why is it that so often, the dishes I love are the least photogenic? Maybe it’s because I never have been very good at presentation, so I instinctively have more affinity with stew than with molecular cuisine, with crumbles than with triple-layer cakes. Still, don’t be fooled by today’s dish’s dowdy appearance. It may look brown and wintery, but it’s actually lighter than it looks, and popping with vibrant flavours.
Fesenjoon, or fesenjan, is a traditional Persian khoresht. As explained in New Persian Cooking, “the nearest equivalent [of a khoresht] would be a casserole, a rich dish with plenty of sauce.” Until recently, I knew next to nothing about Persian food. But then I started taking an art class which happened to be taught and mostly attended by Persians. We talked about doing a potluck, and unfortunately never did, but hearing them talk about their native cuisine piqued my interest. From what I gathered, there seemed to be a lot of spices and deep flavours.
Fesenjoon is traditionally made with duck, but I’ve only ever had it with chicken. The meat is simmered with a mixture of ground walnuts and pomegranate paste/juice/syrup. It’s unclear from the main recipe I used how the chicken should be cut. Another recipe I came across called for cubed chicken. At the Persian restaurant Yas, where we celebrated fellow blogger Evelyne’s birthday a few weeks back, I ordered this same dish, and the meat was indeed cubed. But because I like to cook things on the bone when possible, I opted to cut the whole chicken into ten pieces, and reserved the wings for future use.
Fesenjoon’s appeal clearly lies in the unique combination of walnuts and pomegranate. One recipe called for pomegranate syrup, another for pomegranate paste. Unsure where to find either, I used POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, and compensated the amounts of sugar and liquid. The first time I made fesenjoon, I thought the flavours were a bit muted, but having never eaten this dish, it was hard to judge. Trying it in a restaurant helped a lot, and my second attempt was much more successful, in my opinion. Adding lemon juice seemed like it would be overkill, given that pomegranate is quite tart in itself, but it actually brought the dish together. Served with chelo, plain Persian rice, it’s a meal which is rich, but not too heavy.
Adapted from Jila Dana-Haeri and Sharzad Ghorashian’s New Persian Cooking
250g (9 oz) shelled walnuts
3 tbsp canola oil
One whole chicken, skin removed, cut into 10 pieces
2 medium onions, diced
One 473 ml (16 oz) bottle POM wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
Juice of one lemon
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a food processor, grind the walnuts finely. Reserve.
Heat oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken pieces on all sides, then remove from pan. Add onions to the pan, and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
Deglaze with pomegranate juice. Stir in sugar, salt, lemon juice, and ground walnuts. Return chicken to pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover pan and simmer for 40-50 minutes, until chicken is tender and beginning to fall off the bone.
Remove chicken from pan and raise heat back to medium-high. Reduce sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and turns chocolate brown. Return chicken to pan, coat in sauce, and heat through. Pepper to taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with chelo (Persian buttery white rice).