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Fesenjan - a rich stew poor people can afford

I love rich food and I've come to love the mix of a rich sauce with meat over rice. You get this a lot with Thai curries, Indian Curries, Persian Korescht, and Afghan Quormas. This seems to be a very good format and economical too. Spices cost a lot but you don't need many and rice is cheap. Add meat of some sort and you have a great meal for a decent price. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that we have very limited selection of Persian restaurants and even when you do find one it's probably overpriced and low on quality. When I'm in Orange County I always eat at the Caspian Restaurant in Irvine not only for the environment but for the Fesanjoon. 

 

Fesenjoon (slang for Khoresht-e Fesenjan) is a "stew" made up of a sauce from walnuts and pomegranate syrup/juice. It's wonderfully tart and deep. You add chicken and serve over Basmati rice. Not everyone likes it but it's one of my favorite things to eat.

 

 I've eaten Fesenjoon at many restaurants and tried making it on many occasions. I've been somewhat successful but my Fesenjoon doesn't taste like the Caspians which is wonderfully smooth without being too sweet. Last week I ran across kshar.net, a site run by man determined to bring Persian culture to the masses. What brought me to his site was a three part series on Fesenjoon. His cooking style is a bit loose so you have to pay close attention to what he's doing to get similar results. He also doesn't argue about what SHOULD be, it's your food make it how you like it. He seems to be intent on letting a few ingredients talk as apposed to having many ingredients fighting for attention - I agree with this philosophy. 

 

With that in mind I made Fesenjoon the other day. Following is the pseudo recipe.

  •  2.5 c of walnuts

  • 1 c of water

  • 2 c of pomegranate syrup or 1/4 c pomegranate molasses and 1/4 cup sugar*

  • saffron 

  • turmeric

  • one onion diced

  • 2 lbs of chicken thighs

  • 2 cups of basmati rice

  • salt 

  • oil

     

 

 

  1. For the sauce place a portion of the walnuts in the blender with a little water and blend. If they're too dry to blend add more water. Keep adding water and nuts until they're coursely ground. You don't want a smooth paste here or you won't taste walnuts.

  2. Once their ground place them in a pot on the stove and cook them on medium-high while stirring to keep from burning

  3. Add pomegranate syrup and sugar - see my note below and turn to medium-low and simmer for 1.5 hours minimum. The sauce will get darker the longer you simmer it

  4. Heat oil in saute pan until hot, add onion and saute until browned. Dark sauces want browned onions, not just golden

  5. Add perhaps a teaspoon of turmeric, then add chicken thighs, brown on both sides and set aside

  6. When the sauce has been simmering for 1.5 - 2 hrs add it to the chicken and simmer again for another 60 minutes. Turn the chicken over on occasion to baste in the sauce

  7. The oils from the walnuts will rise to the top (and be green colored like olive oil) and the chicken will get a bit of a crust from the sauce on it

  8. Let cool and put in the refrigerator - this is a second day dish

  9. The next day put the saute pan back on the heat and warm gently on medium-low for about an hour

  10. Serve over basmati rice

 

* Note on syrup vs molasses. I bought a large jar of pomegranate syrup made in Slovenia. This looks like a jar of cranberry juice but you can tell the liquid is definitely thicker. It was already sweetened with sugar and two cups seemed about right. Adding sugar made the sauce overly sweet. If you have pomegranate molasses (common) you'll want to put in 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar as well. Adjust flavors accordingly.

A lot of times Fesenjan cooked at home and sometimes in restaurants is pasty and/or so tart you can't eat it. The pastiness seems to be from people undercooking it. Don't get impatient and eat it too soon, you'll be sorry. This dish can be eaten same day but it's much nicer the next day.

 

A couple of things that seem to make a difference 

  1. Put the pomegranate syrup in with the walnuts from the beginning
  2. Don't grind the walnuts too fine so the sauce still has a walnut taste 
  3. Cook the sauce for a long time. It will get darker and richer as time goes on
  4. Add Pomegranate syrup/sugar according to your taste
  5. Don't get crazy with ingredients - you don't need cardemon, coriander or any of that other stuff.