Fesenjoon – Persian Chicken Stew

This is a rich, deeply-flavoured dish I discovered when Yasmin Khan cooked a traditional Iranian favourite for Nigel Slater. It does require pomegranate molasses, but I found it in a small-town Asda, so you shouldn’t have to look too hard.

There are loads of fesenjoon recipes (and loads of alternate spellings) out there, and I scavenged from them all to create this wonderful stew.

Serves: 4-8

Ingredients

  • 250g walnuts
  • 1 onion, finely sliced (can be red or brown)
  • 1 litre water and/or chicken stock
  • Balsamic vinegar, just a splash
  • 180g pomegranate molasses (130ml) – NOT pomegranate juice
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tomato, unpeeled but seeds removed, and flesh chopped roughly
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar (golden is best, but white will suffice; and granulated is fine)
  • Freshly ground black/rainbow pepper, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 800g chicken thighs, bone-in but skin removed (8-10 depending on size)
  • Cooked white rice, to serve
  • Fresh pomegranate seeds, to garnish (optional)

Kit

  • A mortar and pestle (or, a food processor)
  • A large, heavy stockpot (10″ or so diameter, and at least 4″ deep), with lid
  • A small mixing bowl
  • A plate/bowl to hold the cooked chicken, warmed

Steps

  1. Mash the walnuts in a mortar and pestle (or, whizz in a food processor) until they start to come together like dough. Put into your pot with the onion.
  2. Add the water/stock. Bring to the boil with the lid on, and leave at a rolling boil for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low (ideally, move the pot to the smallest ring at the lowest setting) and give it a good stir.
  3. Simmer for 1 hour (lid slightly askew for steam release), stirring well every 10 minutes or so – stirring is important, so don’t forget.
  4. Add a quick splash of balsamic vinegar after 30 minutes, and give the pot a good, bottom-cleaning stir. Keep stirring regularly for the additional time.
  5. While the walnuts are cooking, put the pomegranate molasses, tomato paste, chopped tomato, spices, sugar, and seasoning into a small bowl, and mix well.
  6. When 1 hour’s gone, increase the hob heat to high. Add the ingredients from the bowl and stir until fully combined, and it’s back to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to very low again.
  7. Add the chicken thighs, pushing them down until fully submerged, and place the lid on fully. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Remove the chicken pieces to a warm plate/bowl. Remove the pot lid and let the sauce bubble on a medium heat for 15 minutes or so to thicken, stirring regularly. Taste, and adjust with more salt/pepper for your palate. Add more sugar for sweetness, or more pomegranate molasses for sourness if you like.
  9. Serve with white rice, and sprinkle over some fresh pomegranate seeds (if using).

Why Fesenjoon?
I was struck when developing this recipe how well it adheres to the Thai cooking rules for optimum flavour – bitter (walnuts), sour (pomegranate), sweet (tomato/sugar), hot (pepper) and salty. It just goes to show that the same rules can be applied to an astonishing variety of dishes to make them tasty.

Photography Note
I like cooking. In fact, I love cooking.
What I do NOT like is wandering from room to room, trying to find the best light to make a brown stew look good on an ancient phone with a scratched camera lens. Trust me, no matter what it looks like here, it really is warm, rich, and completely delicious. (And no matter how much we ‘eat with our eyes’, we taste with our tongues. This will make your tongue do a samba of delight.)

Chicken Bones for Dogs
We all know dogs can’t eat cooked chicken bones – they splinter, and are dangerous to be digested. Did you know, though, that dogs are perfectly fine to eat raw chicken bones? (in counries like the UK where salmonella is no longer an issue)

If you want bone-free chicken in this recipe, you can buy packets of chicken thighs and bone each one out yourself – just run a sharp knife along the bone on each side to loosen it. Save the raw bones in the freezer either to make chicken stock, or, for a scrumptious – and safe! – dog treat.

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