I’m a big fan of pomegranate and am always looking for savoury uses for it. My cousin recently mentioned a fondness for Persian food and so when she came with an old friend for a visit, I immediately thought of the pomegranate and poultry dish fesenjan. Fesenjan is a special occasion dish in Iran and is apparently associated especially with family occasions. It’s also dead easy to make, so it seemed perfectly appropriate both to celebrate seeing my lovely cousin and to cook on a weeknight.

You can make fesenjan with chicken, but it is also traditionally made with pheasant or duck, and I decided on pheasant to add gaminess to the dish. I was regretting that decision when I got the birds home and realised quite how funky they smell, but a good rinse under the tap and a proper clean out of the cavity and they became a lot less pungent. They’re also remarkably easy birds to joint, with dense meat that comes off the bone neatly and a layer of fat you can pretty much peel off by hand if you don’t need it for roasting. Once you have the birds prepped, there are only three more ingredients to the whole dish, and yet the flavour is complex and sophisticated. Some magic is worked among bird, walnuts and pomegranate that gives fesenjan a uniquely seductive quality.

To balance the richness of the fesenjan, I served it with khoresht ghormeh sabzii, a bright herb and green vegetable stew that I’ll post about next.

Fesenjan

  • 2 pheasants, or 1 chicken, jointed
  • 2 cups of walnuts
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3/4 cup of pomegranate molasses
  • fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • oil, salt and pepper

First grind the walnuts in the food processor to a fine meal, being careful not to over-process (you don’t want nut butter). Heat a couple of tbsp oil in a wide, shallow pan and brown the pheasant or chicken pieces all over. Remove to a plate.

Chop the onion and sauté  in the same pan. Once they begin to colour, add the walnuts. Continue to sauté the mixture for several minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. The walnuts will begin to toast and change colour slightly.

Add the pheasant back into the pan and add about a cup of water. Pour in the pomegranate molasses and stir well. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Raise the heat till bubbling, then lower to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30-40 mins, turning the meat occasionally, stirring and adding more water if the sauce is getting too thick.

You have two options for serving: either leave the pieces of meat as they are, or remove and shred them, then put it back into the sauce. I would be more inclined to shred chicken than pheasant or duck, but either way works. Sprinkle the finished dish with pomegranate seeds and serve with rice.

Serves 4

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