Since moving to Italy I have been cooking like it’s my job! Which in all fairness, it kind of is.
I’ve always blamed my sub-par cooking skills on my desire to eat healthy and since most of my meals lack copious amounts of butter, oils, cream, sodium, etc.– my cooking isn’t “exquisite.” The way I see it, if I’m going to indulge, it’s going to be in dessert so I always try to eat relatively clean meals…
But we all know that’s an excuse because “healthy cooking” can still be equally delicious, my issue is I just don’t spend nearly enough time researching and experimenting with new savory recipes as I do with desserts to become a better cook.
It is a timely process to plan meals for the week, shop for ingredients, prepare ingredients, and cook a meal on a daily basis! Especially when cooking is still brand new territory for me… Fortunately, I ain’t got nothing but time so that’s exactly what I do!
This past week I decided to make Fesenjan Chicken, a classic Persian dish of chicken, toasted walnuts, and pomegranates. I chose to make Fesenjan Chicken on the sole basis that Tony looooves pomegranates and I bought a bottle of Pomegranate Molasses on impulse and had no idea what to do with it.
Like every night, I gave myself ample time to mentally prepare myself and my ingredients before getting down to business… Starting with a glass of red wine and some James Vincent McMorrow tunes.
I’m still learning how to properly use a knife and I definitely still wear swimming goggles while cutting onions so delegating my time wisely is key. I was especially on edge this night because I had to finely grind a half pound of walnuts with a knife since I am not in possession of a food processor… After about 45 minutes of hand chopping walnuts to a fine meal that otherwise could have been completed in 2 minutes with a food processor, I was already peeved when I moved on to preparing the raw chicken. About halfway into browning the chicken and burning myself with spitting oil, I realized that silly me, assigned Tony to pick up chicken at the store, and like a boy, he picked up a bunch of chicken wings and thighs, all with skin and bones… None of which is acceptable in this dish… Okay, I thought, “I’ll just remove the skin and the bone myself…” It was bad. I was just mutilating half-cooked, greasy chicken and infecting my entire kitchen with salmonella, which I had cleaned earlier that day… At that point, I had splinters of chicken bone swimming in my chicken broth and salmonella in my hair. I threw in the towel, literally… because that was surely infected with salmonella too.
Fortunately, we live in Florence, where there are hundreds of restaurants within walking distance of our apartment, so we didn’t starve that night… But I still had Fesenjan Chicken on my mind. After all, I did ALLL of that work for the walnuts.
The next day, I went to the Mercato Centrale in a search for boneless and skinless chicken breasts, which to my dismay, they only sold whole chicken breasts with the bone.. and I wasn’t going down that road again. I went to the supermarket and the same thing, so I manned up and I deboned a chicken breast for the first time.. However, this time it was raw and much more effective.
After the deboning, everything went swimmingly. I chopped my onions in record time, thanks to a trick I learned from Ina about leaving the onion root while chopping, I cut my chicken into a uniform size and then cooked them evenly, and my walnuts were already finely ground… The rest was just seasoning and mixing. Easy!
This was to date, one of the top five meals I’ve ever cooked. It’s one of those meals that I was literally patting my own shoulder while we ate dinner because I was so proud of the final product. The chicken is so tender and juicy it literally falls apart as you mix it and it packs so much flavor with the pomegranate molasses, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric too! The nutty aroma of the walnuts filled my kitchen and I was singing its praises before even serving it. I served it over plain Basmati rice and topped it with pomegranate perils and freshly chopped parsley. So delicious and surprisingly, pretty nutritious!
Fesenjan Persian Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce from Simply Recipes:
1 to 2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
½ pound walnut halves (about 2 cups)
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into medium size pieces, patted dry and salted
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- First toast the walnuts. You can do that one of two ways. You can either spread them out in a single layer in a large skillet, and toast them on medium high heat, stirring frequently until lightly toasted, or you can spread them out in a single layer in a baking rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 350°F in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. In either case, once toasted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pulse in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
- In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, pat the chicken pieces dry again and place the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Sprinkle the chicken with salt while they are cooking.
- Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the chicken from the pan, set aside. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low. Add chopped onions to the pan and sauté until translucent, stirring on occasion to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Return the chicken pieces to the pan with the onions. Pour 2 cups of chicken stock over the chicken and onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses, sugar, and spices. Cover and cook on very low heat for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent the walnuts from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat and adjust sugar/salt to taste. At this point the chicken should be fall apart tender.
- Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley. Serve over basmati rice.