Fesenjan (Persian Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate)
A spectacular Persian stew of braised chicken simmered in a thick, tangy and mouth watering sauce made with ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Fesenjan is great for holidays, weekends or when you crave something special.
Toast the walnuts in a skillet at medium high heat, stirring often or spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool the nuts and grind in a food processor until very fine, using the pulse option to prevent from becoming a paste.
In a mortar and pestle, grind saffron with a pinch of salt until powdered. Then dissolve it in hot water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cut the chicken leg quarters into halves if preferred. Pat the pieces dry.
Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven at medium high. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer making sure not to crowd the bottom of the pot. Raise the heat to high and brown both sides, 3 to 5 minutes each side. The idea is to only brown it on the surface and not cook the chicken meat inside. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.
In the same oil, sauté onions with a pinch of salt, stirring in between, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces back to the pot, followed by salt, pepper and turmeric. Combine pomegranate molasses with water and add to the pot. Then add ground walnuts, saffron water and sugar.
Stir everything well, cover and simmer at low heat, for about 1 to 1½ hours, stirring often, until chicken is cooked very tender and almost falls off the bone.
Add water, ¼ cup at a time, if the sauce turns too thick. Make sure that it does not burn or stick at the bottom.
The sauce should be thick and dark brown in color. It should taste sweet and sour. Adjust the seasonings — salt, pepper, pomegranate molasses and sugar to your taste.
Skim off any excess oil collected on the top and transfer to a serving dish. Scatter fresh pomegranate arils on the top. Serve the stew hot with Persian saffron rice and salads.
Walnuts: roasting the nuts is not mandatory but does enhance the flavor.
Chicken: I use skinless leg quarters. Chicken breast will not give the same succulent results. Duck is great for festive times. Another option is meatballs with ground chicken, turkey, lamb or veal — first cook sauce for about 45 minutes, then add meatballs and simmer for additional 15 minutes.
Storage: Fesenjan will keep well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. This stew freezes very well too. Add some water if needed to adjust consistency while reheating.
Pomegranate Molasses: Is available at middle eastern stores, online and at specialty food stores. The brands may vary in how thick, tart and sweet they are. So adjust the amount used accordingly. Adjust the sweet and sour taste of the stew with additional sugar, maple syrup or honey as per the tartness of the molasses.
Homemade Pomegranate Molasses: Bring 4 cups of pomegranate juice to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour until reduced to one-fourth in volume. While simmering, add two pinches of salt. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, honey or sugar to sweeten it to your taste. Use about 2 tablespoons lemon juice to adjust the tartness.
Other Spices: This is optional, but you could add ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon. And also 1 to 2 pinches of nutmeg if you wish.
To enhance the flavor even further, use chicken stock instead of water for the cooking liquid.
You can skim off about half the oil used for cooking, as the walnuts will also release some oil. So, nutrition facts are approx.
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