Monday, 22 December 2014

Khoreshteh Fesenjan (Persian chicken & walnut stew)

I made this for a friend's themed party - it peeked out of the November 2013 edition of BBC Good Food I was browsing just a day or two before the invitation arrived, so I took that as a good omen!

This is an easy dish, utterly unlike anything I have cooked before, and it turned out well. I think it works best as part of a bigger spread as it's too rich on its own. Essentially it's chicken thighs and browned onion simmered in a sauce made of walnuts, water and pomegranate molasses. It needs little prep and a long cooking time, and tastes best if left overnight.

8 skinless chicken thighs (I used thigh fillets and diced them, to make it more of a sharing dish)
1 large onion, chopped
Olive oil for browning

1 tbsp flour
550g walnuts, finely chopped/ground in a food processor
300ml pomegranate molasses (= 2 x 210g bottles from Waitrose)
1.2 litres cold water

to serve: pomegranate seeds, chopped walnuts, parsley

Brown the flour slightly in a dry (large) pan, then add the walnuts and toast gently, stirring often so they don't burn (this is important!). Add the water, stir well, bring to the boil, then simmer for 1hr. (I wondered whether in future I might toast the walnut halves before whizzing them, as it was hard to stir such a large volume of ground nuts.)

Meanwhile, season and brown the chicken and set aside. Slowly cook the onion in the remaining oil/chicken juices, then add chicken and onions to the main pan once the hour is up on the walnut sauce. Also add the pomegranate molasses. Simmer on a low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally (I'd uncover for the last hour if it hasn't thickened much). Serve over basmati rice or with flatbread, plus a nice crunchy salad - the BBCGF feature recommends tomato, cucumber, red onion and more pomegranate seeds, plus a dressing of lemon juice, sumac, mint and dill.

I was surprised there was no other spice or seasoning apart from what's put on the chicken, but it works fine. The pomegranate molasses is a nice blend of sweet and sharp, and rounds out what tasted like a worryingly thin walnut sauce. It did become much darker and richer over time, so definitely plan to make it ahead.

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