Fesenjan is a delicious Persian stew (khoresh) with a very rich and decadent walnut and pomegranate sauce. The first time I tried it, was at my lovely friend Sepideh’s parents’ house many years ago now. Her Mum Fakhri made us the most wonderful meal, which also included crispy rice ‘tahdig’ and a dried lime stew. I still think about that meal eaten more than a decade ago now. Those beautiful dishes, made with such soul and those exciting new flavours. Really very memorable. Thank you Fakhri!
Fesenjan is typically made with chicken now a days. I looked a little into the history of this dish and it was also in the past often made with wild duck. The combination of game and fruit is a well trodden path. However, the earthiness of the walnuts in contrast to the tart pomegranate in this stew is a special and unique flavour; sweet and sour with umami savoury depth. If you like the combination of sweet and sour in dishes, this is a recipe you must try.
About 06 months ago, I started buying a variety of inexpensive high quality cuts of meat from Pipers Farm and having it delivered as there is simply nowhere around where I live to buy responsibly sourced, high quality meat. I won’t digress, but if you are interested in sustainable farming or trying out some ‘different’ nutrient dense animal products, check them out https://pipersfarm.com/pages/sustainable-farming
They have wonderful meat including all the fatty, rich and gelatinous cuts for slow cooking that I love and favour. There is also a variety of offal and bones for broth / stock available. Try making your own bone broth in bulk and dedicating a draw of your freezer to it for adding depth of flavour and richness to stews, soups and sauces. In addition, you will get a boost of natural and free / low cost collagen to your meals. Buy some meat from your butcher and you can get either very cheap or free bones. Call ahead to ask for them to keep some aside for you.
More on the wonders of bone broth and how to make it here from healthfoodfeast https://www.healthfoodfeast.com/bone-broth/
Seasonally, Piper’s farm have venison ‘osso bucco’ (cross cut shank) available. It is delicious; packed full of of marrow and collagen, perfect for slow cooked winter stews and the right meat I thought for supplying me with a window to the flavours of Fesenjan’s more gamey past.
The walnuts for this dish can be coarsely ground for a chunkier textured sauce or ground to a fine powder for a silky smooth sauce. If you do not eat meat, this sauce would also pair wonderfully with eggplants, chickpeas, lentils etc.
I had a lot of sauce left over from this dish (you need only a light coating for the venison, as it is very rich). It froze very well, to be used at a later date to add a touch of vibrancy to another dish.
If venison is not an option, try this with chicken. If you do make this with chicken; when you take the skins off do not discard them. Spread them out on a baking tray, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on high heat in the oven with salt and pepper until golden and crisp. Enjoy with a beer for a moreish crackling like snack.
Serves – 4
Large lidded casserole pot
Small frying pan
Food processor / pestle mortar
Prep – 45 minutes
Cooking time – 3 hours for venison / 1 1/2 hours for chicken
1 kg of venison osso bucco or a mixture of skinless chicken legs and thighs
2 -3 tbsp ghee or samneh
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
50ml of water
125ml pomegranate concentrate / molasses.
2 white onions
500ml of bone broth / stock or water
Season the meat with 2 tsp salt. Add 1 tbsp ghee to your casserole, heat to a medium / high temperature and brown the meat on both sides until golden. Set aside. You may need to do two rounds. Add more ghee if the pan starts to look dry.
Thinly slice the onions , add 1 more tbsp of ghee to the casserole and slowly caramelise the onions on a low temperature for approximately 20 mins until golden and sticky. Set aside.
If the onions or meat start to stick, obviously add more ghee again.
In a small frying pan, dry toast the walnuts on a low heat for two minutes to release the oils. Add to the food processor and blend until you have a paste. If you want a more textured sauce, stop here.
For a very smooth silky sauce, add approx 50 ml of water to the food processor and continue blending until you have a very smooth paste.
If you do not have a food processor; crush the walnuts to a very fine paste with your pestle and mortar. This will probably require two rounds (do not add the water). You can obtain a very fine paste by this method, it just involves a lot more elbow grease!
In your casserole pot; add the meat, followed by the fried onions on top, then the walnut paste, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, the pomegranate molasses and 500ml of broth / stock or water). Heat gently until just simmering. Put the casserole lid on, turn down to a very low heat and cook for approximately 2 1/2 – 3 hours for venison or 1 1/2 hours for chicken until the meat is very soft and falling off the bone.
Keep an eye on the liquid; add some water if it is looking dry and check the dish intermittently as the pomegranate can burn. Keep the liquid level to the meat almost covered (like a braise). If the sauce is too ‘liquidy’ at the end reduce until the sauce clings nicely to the meat.
Serve with rice and a fresh, citrussy salad with lots of green herbs.