If Ghormeh Sabzi is Michael Jackson, Fesenjan (pronounced fesen-joon) is Prince.
Its fans are die-hard. People will wait in line for it. If it were ever to die, people would mourn it for months (if not years!) All of what I just said might be lost on you, so let me rewind.
What is Fesenjan and why do you pronounce it fesenjoon?
First, what is Fesenjoon? (I’m pronouncing it that way because the other way annoys me) It’s a stew or khoresh(t) that originates from the northern Caspian region of Iran in Gilan. Historically, ancient Persian texts are said to have mentioned how dishes that featured duck and pomegranate personified perfection, which is where Fesenjoon probably found its initial start. The stew features pomegranate and walnut as the two key ingredients, the end result is a sweet,sour, and savory concoction that leaves many breathless with how good it is. It’s flavor is one of a kind and that’s probably why folks are so fanatical over it. The protein used in the dish is typically chicken, but traditionally it used to feature duck which was/is plentiful in the north of Iran. Duck honestly really lends itself to the dish, especially a duck leg, the gamey flavor that can come with gets eradicated by the pomegranate that’s featured heavily in the dish.
Fesenjoon is very popular in the fall and winter due to a few reasons. First, pomegranate is fully ripened by the time fall and winter rolls around. More importantly, Fesenjoon falls into the category of a “hot” dish meaning that through the walnuts in the dish it will create energy within the body. The dish is then balanced by the “cool” of the pomegranate to create a delicious synergy in your stomach. It’s my understanding that the dish is also very popular with the Iranian Jewish community, Fesenjoon is commonly prepared for Passover as well.
Why do I pronounce it fesenjoon? In Farsi many words are written one way and spoken another, for instance khoresh is almost universally pronounced khoresht, an English example would be something like the word listen even though it’s spelled with a T it’s read and spoken as if it was spelled without the T. If any of you are linguistics snobs and want to battle me on this, I literally don’t care so save yourself from writing the angry emails.
So what makes a good Fesenjoon?
#1 The right ratio of walnuts to pomegranate molasses. Use too little walnuts and you might have a soupy mess on your hands, use too much and you’re eating literal walnuts. Too much pomegranate molasses and it’s too sour. Too little and it doesn’t have the pomegranate punch. I wish I could tell you there’s a magic ratio to this, but it comes from trial and error, a safe ratio is 1lb of walnuts to 2 cups of molasses. *Pomegranate molasses is also called rohb-e-anar literally meaning sauce of pomegranate.*
#2 The right protein. For the love of god, do not put a whole chicken in there or something with a lot of bones! I suggest if you want to use something with bones because “flavor flavor blah blah” use a chicken thigh and then debone it prior to serving. If you want to go really decadent and use a duck leg, I would suggest you try and maintain the duck’s structural integrity as much as you can so that the bones don’t all melt away into the stew (Better yet, confit the duck leg and serve the sauce over it). If you don’t want to use poultry, I would suggest making meatballs, they work very well with the flavor profile and the meat takes on the flavors of the stew.
#3 Not rushing the cooking process. You want your fesenjoon to cook for a longtime if possible, really cooking down the walnuts. I also highly suggest adding some schmaltz if you have any, it’ll really make a difference in the flavors.
Back to your crazy comparison about the King of Pop and The Artist Formally Known As.
So almost categorically everyone’s favorite Khoresht in the Iranian stratosphere of food is Ghormeh Sabzi, it’s like Michael Jackson. Everyone loves Michael Jackson. Find someone who doesn’t like Michael Jackson, they’re probably dead inside. Now Fesenjoon is a different story. Everybody loves to CLAIM they love fesenjoon (especially non-Iranians these days, don’t get me started on that) just like everyone CLAIMS they love Prince. But most people when you start poking their Prince knowledge they start to mumble uhhh you know, “When Doves Cry!” sorry no. If you’re going to claim Prince fandom, I want a Prince Spotify DEEP dive. I’m talking all the tracks, even the new stuff that is probably unlistenable. Only then can you truly enjoy his true brilliance and majesty that came from 1980’s Prince.
*This is not to say that I’m some Prince superfan, I’m not, but you know you that person who is suddenly claiming super fandom*
If you’re going to claim your love for Fesenjoon you must truly love it. Don’t tell me you love it just because it has pomegranate in it! Don’t be a fesenjoon bandwagon jumper just because all of a sudden Food52, NYT, and Bon Appetit have decided that Iranian food is suddenly the hip thing for people to feel cultured about.
Don’t think we Iranians didn’t notice. We did.
And we’re very torn on whether were happy with our delicious cuisine getting all this mainstream publicity (at least I am). I liken it to having a favorite band for years, you followed them, went to their concerts when everybody else turned up their nose. Then all of a sudden, one stupid hipster thinks it’s cool to like your band and then they RUIN THEM! I know that’s probably extreme, but Iranian food is very near and dear to my heart and I don’t want it cheapened to the point that it ends up in some trendy grocery store freezer section. You may disagree and you may have a perfectly logical response but you wont change my gut reaction to seeing Iranian food in the mainstream.
So did you like Fesenjoon growing up?
Hmm. How do I say this….I hated it so much that I would literally starve before I would eat it as a kid. Literally I would eat an entire plate of broccoli before I would it, that’s how much I disliked it as a kid. My disdain was probably rooted in a couple of things. One Fesenjoon is not exactly aesthetically pleasing, were all friends here, it looks like poop. A pomegranate adorned soupy poop. A tasty poop, but a poop nonetheless. Hungry yet? Yeah I know, your mouth must be WATERING!
Secondly, if you have Fesenjoon with the bones in it as a kid it’s kind of traumatizing. Let me set the scene for you. You’re chewing along on this sweet and sour glorp and all of a sudden BLAM! Bone right in your mouth, interrupting your zen like experience of chewing. Yeah. No thank you.
So Baby Unmanly Chef wasn’t about that fesenjoon life until I matured and could really appreciate it for what it is. Which is a sweet and savory glorp that tastes fantastic! Also I made it myself and much like everything else I make for myself, it tasted way better! (Or at least I thought so) I think part of loving fesenjoon is knowing the trouble it takes to make it, it’s a labor of love.
What’s even funnier about all of this is that my wonderful Mother-in-Law LOVES Fesenjoon. She even adds her own chicken to it so she can stretch out the fesenjoon even longer.
So anytime my Mom makes it, she always makes extra for her, white people be lovin Fesenjoon! She’s an honorary Iranian, so it’s cool you guys.
Enjoy the recipe, you can rub it in all your hipster friends faces, you actually made the dish.
*make sure you serve this with Rice, at least for the first time.
I adapted my recipe from instructions given to me from my Mom over the phone and dear friend of the Blog Azita Houshiar’s recipe that was featured in the NYT.
Recipe – Khoresh-e-Fesenjan (Fesenjoon)
-Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs, each thigh cut into two pieces (2lbs)
– 1lb of shelled walnuts
-1 Cup of finely diced onion
-1/4 cup Apple Sauce (no sugar added)
-2 Cups Broth
-3 Tbsp. Butter
-1 Tsp Salt
-1 Tsp. Black pepper
-2 Tsp. Advieh
-1/2 Tsp. Turmeric
– 2 cups pomegranate molasses (you might need to use more if you don’t think the stew is sour enough, it shouldn’t be so sour that it makes you pucker but just a enough for a tang/but still sweet).
Step 1- Soak the walnuts in water for at least 30 minutes, strain the water, then spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at a low heat (300F) for about 10 minutes, let them dry out (be careful they don’t burn). Shed as much excess skin from the walnuts as you can, that’s where the bitterness comes from. Soaking the walnuts helps alleviate with the bitterness also, you don’t have to do that part if you’re short on time.
Step 2- Once your walnuts are all nice, roasted, and peeled, run them through a food processor so they’re finely chopped.
Step 3- In a large dutch oven pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Then add your onions. Once they turn golden brown add your spices, saute, then add your walnut paste. Keep stirring.
Step 4- Add your apple sauce, stir, then add your broth. Keep this at a simmer.
Step 5- Now add in your pomegranate molasses, the stew should turn a dark brownish red color. Taste the stew, if it’s way too sour you added too much, too sour means like your lips pucker up. Add in some sugar if it’s too sour.
Step 6- In a separate pan, heat the rest of your butter, brown the chicken thighs on both sides, then transfer to the stew.
Step 7 – Cook the fesenjoon until the chicken is completely cooked threw and it basically pulls apart. Keep at a low heat stirring constantly until ready to serve.
- -Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs, each thigh cut into two pieces (2lbs)
- - 1lb of shelled walnuts
- -1 Cup of finely diced onion
- -1/4 cup Apple Sauce (no sugar added)
- -2 Cups Broth
- -3 Tbsp. Butter
- -1 Tsp Salt
- -1 Tsp. Black pepper
- -2 Tsp.Advieh
- -1/2 Tsp. Turmeric
- - 2cups pomegranate molasses (you might need to use more if you don't think the stew is sour enough, it shouldn't be so sour that it makes you pucker but just a enough for a tang/but still sweet)
- Step 1- Soak the walnuts in water for at least 30 minutes, strain the water, then spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at a low heat (300F) for about 10 minutes, let them dry out (be careful they don't burn). Shed as much excess skin from the walnuts as you can, that's where the bitterness comes from. Soaking the walnuts helps alleviate with the bitterness also, you don't have to do that part if you're short on time.
- Step 2- Once your walnuts are all nice, roasted, and peeled, run them through a food processor so they're finely chopped.
- Step 3- In a large dutch oven pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Then add your onions. Once they turn golden brown add your spices, saute, then add your walnut paste. Keep stirring.
- Step 4- Add your apple sauce, stir, then add your broth. Keep this at a simmer.
- Step 5- Now add in your pomegranate molasses, the stew should turn a dark brownish red color. Taste the stew, if it's way too sour you added too much, too sour means like your lips pucker up. Add in some sugar if it's too sour.
- Step 6- In a separate pan, heat the rest of your butter, brown the chicken thighs on both sides, then transfer to the stew.
- Step 7 - Cook the fesenjoon until the chicken is completely cooked threw and it basically pulls apart. Keep at a low heat stirring constantly until ready to serve.