Friday, April 15, 2016

RECIPE BY REQUEST: Persian Chicken

"Chicken is just soooo good!" That's one of my father's favorite phrases, and he means it in quite general terms. To his palate, there are few things more tasty, more versatile, or more deliciously restorative than some kind of dish featuring chicken on the bone. He's right -- and this makes chicken a great dinner idea for home cooks around the world. 

Besides crowd-pleasers like simple roast chicken or rotisserie chicken (billion dollar businesses are built on the deliciousness of these simple staples), there are dishes from all cultures and all cuisines that feature chicken on the bone. Think American Southern buttermilk fried chicken and Korean fried chicken, Peruvian grilled chicken and the spicy piri-piri chicken of Africa and Portugal, chicken cacciatore from Italy and coq au vin from France. There's chicken paprikash from Hungary and jerk chicken from Jamaica, chicken in the tagines of Morocco and the paellas of Spain, tandoori chicken in India. There are the chicken curries in Thailand, chicken rice in Singapore, chicken adobo in the Philippines, and caramel chicken in Vietnam. And we haven't even gotten to all the preparations and variations on chicken wings! It's head-spinning to think about the versatility of this poultry. 

But out of all the lip-smackingly tempting preparations out there for chicken, one of my favorites is standard fare in the Persian cooking canon. I call it simply Persian Chicken, though its name is actually Khoresht Fesenjan, and it's chicken on the bone, stewed until tender with a sauce of walnuts, spices, and pomegranate molasses, finished with fresh pomegranate. The recipe is thought to have originated with duck in ancient Persia, which might possibly be the only more-delicious way to enjoy this sauce. I could bathe in this sauce. It's incredibly scrumptious: it's got texture, it's sour and sweet and aromatically spiced, with the brightness of the fresh pomegranate arils and layers of flavor. I like to add lots of chopped parsley at the end and just a squeeze of fresh lemon, to brighten it as it all comes together. 

I've made this dish for Passover seders in the past and my clients have loved it. Some have asked for the recipe -- hence, I'm obliging with this "Recipe By Request." It's easy to prepare as kosher for the holiday, and it adds a bit of Sephardic flavor to brighten up the usual brisket-and-matzo-ball-soup menus that are so popular among American Ashkenazi Jews. So, try making Persian chicken this Passover, or try it any time of the year when you can get your hands on fresh pomegranate. I think it'll become a favorite under the "CHICKEN" heading in your recipe files! 


Cook time
Serves: 2-4
  • 1 whole chicken cut into 8-10 pieces 
  • 3 TBS olive oil or vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter)
  • 8 ounces walnut halves, toasted and chopped into 1/4" pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin in half moons
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup pomegranate molasses/concentrate
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • kosher salt
  • ⅛ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds for garnish
  • squeeze of fresh lemon
  1. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and sear the chicken pieces on all sides until browned; remove from pan.
  2. Add the sliced onions to the pan and saute with 3-4 TBSP vegetable oil in a 6-Qt stockpot until golden.
  3. Add the ground spices and stir for 30 seconds until heated through with the onions.
  4. Add the chopped/ground walnuts and stir to coat.
  5. Add the pomegranate molasses and stir.
  6. Add the chicken broth and stir to mix.
  7. Add chicken to the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring the chicken and the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat. 
  8. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes to avoid the sauce sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is fork tender and falls off the bone.
  9. Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and stir the parsley into the sauce. Taste and adjust for salt and seasoning. 
  10. Sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on top as garnish.
  11. Serve over white Persian steamed rice. 

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