Khoresh-e fesenjoon is one of the most delicious Persian dishes. Biting into a tender piece of a well cooked sweet and sour chicken covered with tangy pomegranate and finely ground walnut sauce is to experience a piece of Persian culture, its food and heritage. In researching pomegranates, its history and its use in our culture, I've learned that it dates back to 3300 BC, here. Fesenjoon is another example of Persian ingenuity in creating a well-balanced and healthy meal. I find the combination of all the ingredients in fesenjoon to be simply genius!
Using fresh ingredients in Persian cooking is key. For many of us who live outside of Iran, finding the required and right ingredients is sometimes a challenge, one that we must learn to adapt to by using substitutes when needed. However, for this dish I believe all the needed ingredients are readily available here in the north east. One thing that I should mention is to use fresh walnuts, if possible. If you buy them readily packed in a bag like I do, at least check to see that the walnut colors are light and not dark. Dark colored and old walnuts taste bitter. Soaking walnuts for a few minutes in water or at least rinsing them before cooking improves the taste. Another key factor is using the right pomegranate concentrate/syrup. It should be of a thick consistency and not watery or mixed in with a sweetener. Don't use pomegranate juice instead.
Fesenjoon doesn't require too many ingredients or prep time. It's a simple dish and it cooks fast. However, if you want to achieve that authentic and ancient recipe what it needs is patience. Khoresh-e fesenjoon has to be cooked on a low temperature/simmer setting for all the tastes to blend in and the walnut oil to be released gradually onto the stew.
Sometimes, I may get a little carried away with my food decorations. I have to say that this dish doesn't need any props. When served with some aromatic white rice, the aroma, the look and above all the taste will speak for itself.
Fesenjoon - Pomegranate Walnut and Chicken Stew
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, cut in small chunks
1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
2 cups pomegranate syrup
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
- You may chop the walnuts as finely as possible or pulse them a few times in a food processor.
- In a small pan add two tablespoons of oil and saute walnuts until lightly toasted for a minute or two over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Add the pomegranate syrup and 2 cups of water, mix well, cover the pan with lid slightly ajar and simmer for 30- 40 minutes on low heat.
- In a large heavy pot, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat until golden brown, add turmeric and stir well.
- Place the chicken pieces into the pot and cook until golden brown on all sides, add salt, pepper and a small dash of cinnamon. I usually add 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the beginning which later on can be adjusted and a dash of pepper. This is not a hot dish.
- Pour the pomegranate walnut mixture into the pot, mix well, add additional water if needed, chicken pieces need to be covered in liquid, bring back to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours. The slow cooked chicken, walnuts and pomegranate sauce will be rich and creamy.
- If towards the end you see that it's still watery and not of a thick consistency leave the cover a little ajar, to let the steam and moisture out. Fesenjoon should not be watery.
- Add the sugar at the end. Start by adding 2 tablespoons of sugar, mix well without shredding the chicken. If you like it more sweet then go ahead and add another tablespoon of sugar. Khoresh fesenjoon is a well-balanced, sweet and sour (malas) dish. I, personally, like it more on the sour side. But that's just me. The majority of people that I know like it more sweet than sour.