Fesenjan is a traditional Persian pomegranate and walnut chicken stew. It's sweet and sour with a rich nutty flavor, served over rice. The chicken is cooked in a rich walnut and pomegranate sauce until tender, making this a luscious and delicious meal.
When it comes to Persian recipes, flavor and texture is everything. Whether it's a classic Persian rice and tahdig, ghormeh sabzi or eggplant stew, we always take the simplest of ingredients and, with a few tweaks here and there, we turn them into a delectable and tasty dish. Today I'm going to show you how to make fesenjan, my all time favorite Persian dish made with walnuts, pomegranate molasses and chicken.
Table Of Contents:
The origin of Fesenjan
Of all the Persian recipes, I would call fesenjan, also known as fesenjoon, the most mystical dish because of its unique flavor developed by cooking chicken in a rich pomegranate molasses and walnut sauce that's simmered for hours. This stew is not like anything you've had before yet it makes you come back for more.
This Persian pomegranate and walnut stew originated in northern Iran, Gilan province to be exact, and has spread its way through cities all over Iran and made its way through the hearts of many around the world.
The combination of walnuts and pomegranates is well loved and commonly used in many dishes in Northern region of Iran including marinades for kebabs, sauces and dips.
I have a fond memory of fesenjan: when I was a kid, I used to refuse to eat this stew because of its color and my mom would never make an alternative meal because she knew it is one to love and cherish. Finally, one day she said "just have it once and see if you like it or not." And with the first spoon in my mouth, I knew I was going to love this dish dearly for the rest of my life. The sour flavor coated in a subtle sweetness paired with the nutty flavor coming from the walnuts had me close my eyes and smile with all my heart.
What does Fesenjan taste like?
Similar to Persian pomegranate chicken, the flavor of this stew varies from sour to sweet, depending on the pomegranate molasses and the addition of sugar. My family loves to prepare this dish sweet and sour, leaning more towards sourness. Thus, I usually don't add sugar but some do. It really depends on how sweet you like it to be.
- Onion: Like many other Persian stews, this recipe starts with sautéing onion in some oil until golden.
- Chicken: I usually use bone-in skinless thighs and legs but chicken breast works, too.
- Walnuts: I find grinding them in a food processor or a blender gives the best result. Blend the walnuts until you have fine walnut meal.
- Pomegranate molasses: It's a thick molasses made of pomegranate juice which gives this stew its rich dark brown color. You can find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern stores or online. Alternatively, you can make the molasses at home, more on that below.
- Pumpkin or butternut squash: An addition I learned from a friend's mother who was born and raised in northern Iran. Walnuts are warm by nature, which means that after having a lot of them, your body feels warmer than usual. Adding mashed cooked pumpkin or butternut squash would balance the the nature of fesenjan. Pumpkin would make the sauce creamy and thick.
- Spices: You only need turmeric, salt and pepper for this fesenjan recipe. Some suggest adding cinnamon or bloomed saffron, however, I don't find it necessary since the walnuts and pomegranates are already rich in flavor.
How to make fesenjan
- Prepare the walnuts: Grind the walnuts finely in a food processor, make sure not to overprocess them to avoid the walnuts releasing their oil.
- Sauté the onions: Heat the vegetable oil in a pot or a Dutch oven and sauté the onion until translucent and slightly golden. Add in the turmeric and sauté for a few more minutes.
- Sear the chicken: Place the chicken thighs in the pot and sear for 5 to 7 minutes on each side until they are golden. You don't want them to cook completely, but to just get some color and crust. Remove them from the pot onto a plate and set aside.
- Add the walnuts: Add the ground walnuts to the sautéed onions and cook until they start releasing their aroma. Pour in the water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 45 minutes so the walnuts release their oil. Stir occasionally to make sure the walnuts don't stick to the pot.
- Add the pomegranate molasses and pumpkin: After 45 minutes, add in the pomegranate molasses, pumpkin, salt and pepper. Give it a good stir, cover and cook for another hour so the sauce starts to thicken.
- Add the seared chicken: After 1 hour, add the seared chicken back to the stew and cook for another 30 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked and tender. The dark brown pomegranate and walnut sauce will be a bit thick and there will be a thin layer of oil from the walnuts on the top.
- Taste and season if needed: Once the chicken is cooked, taste the sauce and add more salt or pomegranate molasses if needed. If the sauce is too sour for your taste, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar or brown sugar.
Tips to make the best fesenjan
- Use quality pomegranate molasses: Make sure the pomegranate molasses you're using doesn't contain added sugar. The recipe is calling for 1 ½ cup pomegranate molasses but different brands have different levels of sourness. Start with one cup and if you think your fesenjan is not sour enough, add more pomegranate molasses.
- Mashed pumpkin is optional: Using mashed pumpkin or butternut squash is optional in many recipes. After years or making fesenjan, I've come to the conclusion that adding pumpkin to this recipe makes it creamier, thicker and more balanced.
- Don't use too much oil: Not much oil is needed for this fesenjan recipe as the walnuts will release their fat once they're heated.
- Use skinless chicken: You can make fesenjan with chicken breast or drumsticks as well as thighs. All pieces should be skin off and preferably bone in for more flavor.
How to serve fesenjan
Like many other Persian stews, we serve fesenjan with Persian rice and tahdig. You can also serve it with saffron rice or one pot rice with golden crust. It's common to serve a Persian meal with a side of salad shirazi, plain yogurt or yogurt and cucumber (mast o khiar).
Variations of Fesenjan
This Persian pomegranate walnuts stew can also be made with different proteins. In the north of Iran, people traditionally make this recipe with duck. However, since duck is not widely available, nowadays fesenjoon is mainly made with chicken.
Some families make fesenjan with meatballs. To do so, sear meatballs separately and add them to the sauce n the last 10-15 minutes for them to cook completely.
If you prefer to make it vegetarian, just go ahead and leave out the meat. The secret and beauty of this dish is only in the sauce. As long as you have fesenjan sauce right, you're all good to go! But if you would like to add a vegetarian protein to it, tofu would be a practical choice.
Storing the leftovers and reheating
Store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. This stew usually tastes better the next day!
This Persian chicken stew also freezes very well. Let it cool completely and then store in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 2 months. To serve, let it thaw in the fridge overnight.
To reheat fesenjan, place it in in a small pot and turn the heat on to medium low. Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick to the pot. It takes about 20 minutes to reheat completely.
Frequently asked questions
Absolutely. The beauty of Persian stews is that they taste a lot better the next day. You can make fesenjan up to a day in advance and reheat it when you're ready to serve.
Pomegranate molasses is basically reduced pomegranate juice. If you would like to make it at home, pour 16 oz pomegranate juice into a pot and bring it boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until reduced and thickened. After making the recipe, you can refrigerate the leftovers.
Theoretically, yes. Walnuts are the base of khoresht fesejan but if you don't want to use all walnuts, it's possible to use ⅓ lb almond meal and ⅔ lb ground walnuts. The process of making the recipe stays as it is. If you prefer to use whole almonds and ground them with the walnuts, make sure to use blanch almonds in order to have them mix with walnuts perfectly.
More Persian Recipes
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Fesenjan (Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew)
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion diced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 8 pieces skinless bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 lb walnuts About 4 cups
- 1 can pumpkin 15 oz.
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 ½ cup pomegranate molasses
- Using a food processor, crush the walnuts to form fine crumbs. Make sure not to overprocess, you don't want the walnuts to release their oil.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a pot, preferably a Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot, add the onions ad sauté onion until translucent and slightly golden, about 10 minutes.
- Add in the turmeric and cook for a minutes. Add in the chicken and sear for 5-7 minutes on each side, until they are golden. They should not cook all the way through. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot, place them on a plate and set them aside.
- Add the walnuts and sauté for 5-10 minutes so they start releasing their aroma.
- Add 3-4 cups of water. Turn the heat up to medium high and bring the mixture to boil, turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the pumpkin, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper and let it cook for 1 more hour.
- Add the chicken back to the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked and the sauce has thickened.
- Taste the stew, if it's not sour enough, add some more pomegranate molasses and if it's too sour, add 1 - 2 tablespoon brown sugar.
- Khoresht Fesenjan is supposed to be thick, not much water is needed.
- You can use canned pumpkin or cooked butternut squash in this recipe. Adding the pumpkin will balance the natural warmth of the dish and also the flavor.
- Some suggest adding bloomed saffron to this dish, I don't find it necessary since the pomegranate and walnut both have rich flavors.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. You can also freeze this pomegranate walnut stew in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. To serve, let it thaw completely and then reheat it in a pot over medium heat.