This started out as an attempt at making Fesenjan, an intense Afghani and Persian concoction of chicken in a thick pomegranate walnut sauce. Dave got a bit carried away with it, though, and with the replacement of chicken stock and pomegranate molasses for mere pomegranate juice and a big splash of Shaoxing rice wine later, this really became a creation of its own.
I still hope to someday master the art of cooking Fesenjan, but the Walnut Chicken we managed to create instead is delectable in a different way. It’s meatier, in a sense, more straightforward, like a night playing Scrabble with your family instead of the carnival that is Fesenjan. We’ll be making this again.
This is the sort of food I would make for my brothers when I want to receive the most applause. Food that isn’t just fun, but truly about making people happy to have eaten it.
Also, that plate you see in these photos? I blew it out of hot glass myself.
(adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and Josh Welchman)
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
A generous splash of Shaoxing rice wine
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 small shallots, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/3 C chicken stock (ideally homemade, or as close to salt-free as you can find it in the store)
1 C ground walnuts
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Stir the chicken breast pieces and Shaoxing together in a bowl and set aside to marinate and come to room temperature.
In a large-ish heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the onion and shallots in walnut oil. Stir in the turmeric about 5 minutes into the process, and continue to slowly brown until the onions and shallots are dark enough for your liking. If you tend to be hesitant, try pushing the browning process further than you think safe. You will be pleasantly surprised by the result.
Add the chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, and ground walnuts and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients, including the chicken and the Shaoxing in which it has been marinating. Simmer covered for about half an hour, or until the chicken is tender and done and the whole thing smells too good to delay dinner any longer.
We served this with plain basmati rice and garlic scapes that had been cut into pieces about 1-2 inches long and stir-fried in olive oil with just a touch of salt and pepper.