Chicken Fesenjan with Walnuts and Pomegranate Syrup

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

This Persian dish is served on important occasions. Its importance has something to do with the amount of walnuts used to make the rich, flavorful sauce.

Although this recipe serves 4–6 people, Persian Jews often served this dish to their extended families, thus requiring significant amounts of walnuts, which were very costly. In north Iran, the custom is to make this dish with duck or pheasant. Chicken, lamb, and meatballs are also used with this sauce throughout the country.

Learn more about the history of Jewish Persian food and find additional recipes.

1 heaping cup of walnut pieces
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
3–4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
2 Tablespoons honey or 3 Tablespoons sugar
4 grindings of sea salt or to taste
10 grindings of black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons water
3 chicken breast halves
3 chicken thighs
1 cup of chicken broth or water
2 or more Tablespoons lemon juice (as needed)
  1. Toast the walnut pieces in a 350°F oven until fragrant (5–6 minutes for large pieces taken from freezer). Remove from oven and cool before finely chopping them in a food processor.
  2. Heat a 4-quart Dutch oven for 20 seconds on a cooktop over moderately high heat. Add oil, heat for another 15 seconds, and add diced onion. Sauté for 5–8 minutes or until onions are soft and lightly golden.
  3. Add onions to the processor bowl with the nuts, and pulse the machine on and off seven times until a coarse paste is created.
  4. In a small glass bowl, combine the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, honey or sugar, spices, and 3 tablespoons of water. Set aside.
  5. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces. Rinse and pat dry.
  6. Reheat the pan in which you sautéed the onion. If necessary add another tablespoon of oil. Add chicken, meat side down first, and cook for 5 minutes or until slightly browned. Flip meat over and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Remove chicken from the pan to a platter. Add the onion-walnut mixture to the pot along with the contents from the glass bowl. Add 1 cup water or chicken broth and stir to combine.
  8. Return chicken to the pot, turning pieces so that they are well coated with the walnut mixture. Cover pot and put in 350°F oven for 35–45 minutes or until meat is tender.
  9. If necessary, adjust seasonings by adding more sugar or lemon juice to the mixture to get a balanced sweet-and-sour taste. Serve with basmati rice.

Note: This dish tastes even better when made a day in advance.

Additional Notes
  • Because it is hard to skim off fat from this nut-thickened sauce, remove the skin from the poultry before frying to reduce the amount of fat in this already rich dish.
  • Although tomatoes are not native to the Middle East, many recipes for fesenjan include some tomato paste to slightly thicken the sauce and brighten its color.