Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Chicken Stew

persian fesenjan recipe
Have some fesenjan,” my gracious host, Sargon, pointed in the direction of a wet mass of brownness in a ceramic bowl on the buffet table. A brief moment of awkwardness followed. The fact is — in terms of appearance, this thing could only be described as uninteresting at best and unappetizing at worst. Nestled between a platter of colorful assorted vegetables and a bowl of vibrant-colored saffron pilaf, the stew’s lack of aesthetics became even more pronounced which, in turn, made my reluctance to plunge the serving spoon — poised in mid-air — into it more justified.

It’s good,” Sargon assured me. At that very moment, three things popped into my head: 1. it would be very rude of me to refuse the food which my host was recommending, 2. how awful of me to unfairly judge a stew who had never done anything to hurt me, and 3. doggone it, how many times in your life do you get invited to a Persian/Assyrian Christmas party? Eat up!

The wet brown thing was ladled over the saffron rice on my plate. But the awkwardness remained until I sat down at the table and took a bite of it. And that was when I found out that the previously unidentifiable meat was chicken, that the meat was so tender and the sauce so rich and intensely flavorful, and, lastly, that when it comes to braised/stewed/slow-cooked dishes, it’s the pretty ones that are more likely to fail you. Repentantly, gratefully, and greedily, I finished my portion of fesenjan before going back for more. And more. And a little more.

This Persian pomegranate and walnut stew goes by the official name khoresht fesenjan خورشت فسنجان or oftentimes merely fesenjan فسنجان. The English transliterations, not surprisingly, vary greatly. Depending on the region whence the speaker comes, you get anything from fesenjon or fesenjoon to fesenjaan. According to the classical form, however, the last vowel is supposed to be a long A vowel, so I’m leaning towards ifesenjani and fesenjaanias the most accurate provided that the transliteration fesenjan is understood to have a macron over the a to indicate a long vowel — fesenjān.

Okay, you guys can wake up now.

persian fesenjan recipe
True to form, if I like something, I have to get the recipe. When I’m in that mindset, manners and decorum become irrelevant. I waded through the sea of Persian guests and, with the help of my hosts, Sargon and found his wife a beautiful young lady, who brought the dish. I sat Rubella down on a chair and made her tell me in detail, from start to finish, how she made her fesenjan. Not only did Rubella not punch me in the face, she graciously complied. I get lucky like that all the time. It’s inexplicable.

pomegranate molasses recipe
There are many ways to make fesenjan, a dish usually reserved for special occasions. And as is the case with most family dishes, there are several variations. However, according to my research, I would say that the use of pomegranate juice or pomegranate molasses (strictly speaking, pomegranate juice reduction), walnuts, and meat constitutes a proper fesenjan. You can make fesenjan with various cuts of lamb, goat, beef, or chicken. Even ground beef is used in some family recipes. Rubella opts for chicken breast meat.

fesenjon recipe
The walnuts are ground up into fine meal and dry-toasted in a skillet until it turns darker in color and releases its aromatic oil. The meat goes in, followed by the pomegranate molasses and water. Seasoned simply with salt and pepper, the meat is simmered, covered, until tender and falling apart. The result is a comforting meat stew that is succulent, mildly sweet, a bit tart, and creamily nutty (if that makes any sense …) all at the same time.

Warm fesenjan over a mound of fragrant saffron rice pilaf is a thing of beauty. Don’t pay attention to the silly woman who wrote the first paragraph.

Rubella’s Fesenjan – Persian Chicken Pomegranate and Walnut Stew
(Serves 8)
Printable Version

4 large bone-in chicken breasts, skinned
1/2 lb (approximately 2 cups) of raw walnut halves
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (Rubella doesn’t add onions, but I like it that way.)
3/4 cup of pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of salt

persian chicken stew recipe

  • In a food processor, grind the walnuts into fine meal, taking care not to over-process lest you end up with walnut butter.
  • In a large saucepan, sauté the ground walnuts over medium heat along with the chopped onion until the walnuts start to release some oil and become darker in color. By that time, the onion will have become soft and translucent as well.
  • Arrange the chicken breasts in the pan in a single layer, bone side down.
  • Drizzle pomegranate molasses and sprinkle the salt all over the chicken.
  • Add one cup of water to the pan and bring it all to a gentle boil; cover, lower the heat slightly, and let the stew simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  • Flip the chicken pieces and scrape the walnut sauce off the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching; continue to simmer gently for another 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and transfer the chicken to a separate bowl; allow the meat to cool.
  • Once the chicken pieces are cool enough to handle, remove the bones and shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.
  • Return the shredded chicken to the pan and stir to allow the chicken to be fully covered with the sauce; heat through.
  • Correct seasoning with more salt, if necessary. If the stew is too acidic for your taste, a pinch of sugar will help balance it out somewhat.
  • Serve warm over saffron rice pilaf.
  • 28 Responses to Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Chicken Stew

    1. Bob March 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

      I dunno, it looks pretty appetizing to me. But that just might be your photo skills. Heh. But I would totally try that!

    2. OysterCulture March 11, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

      Love, love, love this dish! One of my favorites. I make it too but have to say, I think I’ve been missing some of the steps or techniques as it tastes close but not exactly like the incredibly intoxicating goodness I remember. I’ll have to give Rubella’s version a try.

      I agree, that while Persian stews may not always be the most aesthetically appealing, unlike their rice. They more than make up for it in taste and aroma! One of my favorite cuisines, and I feel like I just tapped the surface.

    3. lisaiscooking March 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

      This sounds wonderful! The tartness from pomegranate with the walnuts and chicken sounds like a great mix of flavors with the saffron rice. Looks lovely with the pomegranate seeds on top too.

    4. Jenn March 11, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

      Mmmm…this looks wonderful. I haven’t had much of Persian cuisine, but I’ve always wanted to try it. I love the pomegranate here.

    5. noonionplease March 11, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

      I love anything that has pomgranate and nuts in! This combo is unbeatable. I am so into making this dish! The only thing (that may sound weird but it’s true) is that I’m sure that where I live I’ll have pretty big problems to find chicken breasts on bone :/ I guess no other choice just to buy 2 whole chickens 😀

    6. Leela March 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

      noonionplease – use one whole chicken then. Just cut it up into quarters. Actually, that may result in an even more flavorful stew with the dark meat, the bones, and all. 🙂

    7. Cooking Rookie March 11, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

      I love your recipe, and the pictures are gorgeous!
      I also made a similar dish about a month ago: http://cookingrookie.blogspot.com/2010/02/pomegranate-chicken.html
      Next time I’ll try it your way 😉
      Thanks for sharing

    8. Gera @ SweetsFoodsBlog March 11, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

      Very nice presentation! It looks fantastic…the chicken, pomegranate and walnut rocks!



    9. arugulove March 12, 2010 at 1:25 am #

      I want to lick the screen. This looks amazing and so simple. YUM!

    10. Hypnotransformations March 12, 2010 at 3:08 am #

      wow! Looks delicious!

    11. 5 Star Foodie March 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

      Sounds wonderful with pomegranates and walnuts!

    12. Tiffiny Felix March 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

      Yum! And gorgeous photos, as usual 🙂

      Also, I have an award for you over at my blog if you want to come take a look. Thanks!

    13. Lydia March 13, 2010 at 12:35 am #

      I tried my hand at making Fesenjan a few months back and my whole family loved it! We used turkey, I believe, because we’re not big fans of duck as it is often made with. Oddly, it reminded me a lot of Mexican mole, the infamous sauce with chiles, peanuts and chocolate (or other infinite variation). Maybe it was the nuts…

    14. Leela March 13, 2010 at 12:59 am #

      Lydia – Mole came to mind when I had fesenjan for the first time too. Like you said, probably because of the nuts. Fesenjan is much more acidic, though.

      Great. Now I crave mole.

    15. Patty March 13, 2010 at 5:55 am #

      Pomegranate molasses?? Wow I’ve never even heard of that, now I’ve got to try this recipe out 🙂 Thanks for posting!

    16. The Duo Dishes March 13, 2010 at 7:39 am #

      This is at the top of the list of amazing Persian dishes. Your version is really interesting because it’s chicken breast, which is obviously healthier than thighs. 🙂 Either way, it’s a good recipe!

    17. Lindsey March 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

      I’ve never cooked Persian food but this post makes me want to! I love poms so I should love this too! Thanks so much.

    18. Cindy March 29, 2010 at 12:55 am #

      This is really good using venison as the meat.

    19. Sithlord January 28, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

      Add a little ground cardamom (2-3 pods), cinnamon (1/2 tsp), and saffron (a few treads ground with a pinch of salt and solved in a little warm water) for a richer flavor.

    20. salome February 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

      I always use a whole chicken! My husband (a white european LOL) was horrified at how the gravy looked, but now loves it so much I have to make it almost every Friday. My grandma taught me Kermanshah style, which is sweetened with extra sugar. Mmmmm

    21. Leela February 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      Salome – I’ve made this several times with bone-in chicken leg quarters and loved it, so yeah, a whole chicken is definitely delicious. 🙂

    22. Samantha March 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

      I made this over the weekend and it has become one of my favorite dishes! It was absolutely delicious!! I blogged about it here 🙂 http://bit.ly/h1UC5Z because everyone should make this at least once in their lives. I’m addicted!

    23. Kaleigh January 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Looks amazing, really want to try…Could you use pomegranate juice instead of the molasses and water?

    24. Admin January 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      Kaleigh – Yes, you can. Pomegranate “molasses” here is actually a misnomer anyway since it’s not made the same way as molasses and is nothing but pomegranate juice concentrated/reduced until thick and syrupy. I wouldn’t recommend using straight pomegranate juice; you’d achieve better results with this recipe if you reduce the juice down first until it has the consistency of maple syrup. You may have to start with 4-6 times the amount — not sure as I’ve never done it, but that’s how much juice I’d start with.

    25. Gazaleh July 26, 2012 at 12:06 am #

      Thank you for making our Persian/Iranian stew, I know what you mean when you said its not appetising, but you CAN NOT taste something like it anywhere else. Iranians usually cook it during winter as walnut is warm (Persian cooking philosophy; we have warm and cold ingredients). You can also cook Fesenjan with duck, it’s common in North of Iran or even red meat.

    26. wendy canfield September 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      I am SO happy to find this recipe as my very favorite afghani restaurant in NYC has recently taken a
      turn for the worse (food & cleanliness) which made me very sad (as my husband and I see to frequent this place when we were dating) but also fearful I would never have an opportunity to enjoy this WONDERFUL, wonderful dish again.

      Had Pomms not become so popular in recent years I doubt it would have been so easy to find the recipe for this middle eastern gem. Many, many thanks.

    27. Liz October 10, 2012 at 2:46 am #

      Just a note – when a word in Persian has a long “a” vowel, it is often pronounced as “oo” (as in, “Ooh, look!”) in informal conversation, but left as the long “a” in more formal settings. It is always spelled in Persian with a long “a”.

      LOVE FESENJOON! My grandma always makes it with little meatballs 🙂

    28. M March 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      this Iranian dish is one of the best, love it