The Origin and Gilan
The beautiful dish is one the oldest and most authentic persian dishes. This dish actually originates from my part of the world in Iran, the north right under the Caspian sea also known as Gilan province. This recipe is one that has been made in my family for decades and my grandmother, who is also named after the province Gilan, is an absolute master at perfecting this dish. Her talents have therefore passed onto my amazing mum who has helped me measure everything and create this recipe step by step for Peanutswirls.
Don’t be fooled by the colour of this dish, I don’t think I have personally seen anything like it and the initial reaction for anyone who sees it for the first time is ‘oh wow a black/brown stew’, but when they try it they always follow it up with ‘wow I wasn’t expecting that’.
To break it down, it has a few of the most nutritiously valued ingredients. The base of the sauce is made with completely ground walnuts, a lot of walnuts, no lumps and pumps, no graininess. After speaking to a few Iranian foodies we all agreed the fact that it is extremely frustrating when this dish is by non Iranian chefs or content creators and the texture is always grainy because the walnut hasn’t grinned enough. Back in the olden days this would be done with a very large mortar and pestle and they would get it to become super smooth. In today’s day and age however, with so many food processors on the market we have no excuse, it just has to be done right.
The Molasses Farm
The second most important component of this dish is the molasses. Now lets speak about pomegranate molasses, the truth is that this dish traditionally is not made with pure pomegranate molasses. Till this day, once a year my mum is sent her portion of molasses from Iran. A distant aunt of hers cooks this molasses from scratch on her farm where she has endless pomegranate and sour plum trees. She has other fruit trees too and the fruit of those trees are also used in the process of cooking this molasses but she has never given her full secret away. I personally visited her farm with my mum ervery year when she would go to pick up her 1kg of molasses. Yes she cooks in tons, the entire city and the surrounding region shop from her, her molasses travels the whole world all the way t the US and Australia and almost every year her molasses is sold out before she has even started the process of cooking it.
The most beautiful part of this process is that this now very old lady has over 10 children and many many grandchildren, who travel to her every year to help her make the molasses, it takes days to prepare and many days to cook drain etc. so it becomes a big family affair but most importantly a way to create wonderful memories.
In the western world feel free to purchase the best quality pomegranate molasses to use for this recipe. Something as pure as possible with at least sugar as possible.
How much Molasses should I use?
In this recipe I used the homemade molasses I mentioned above, so of course it is a lot more concentrated and darker in colour. A shop purchased molasses will not give you the same result, a higher quantity will certainly have to be used. Start by using 1/4 of a cup, wait for the Fesenjan to boil for at least 10 minutes before deciding whether to add more pomogranate molasses. As the longer the stew boils the darker it will become in colour.
Note – The final colour of the Fesenjan will always depend on the amount and the quality of the pomegranate molasses used. You should aim for a colour ranging from a dark brown to black line mine in the photographs.
Fesenjan – Persian Walnut and Pomegranate stew
In a large pot where Fesenjan is going to be made, start shallow frying the chicken in oil with a pinch of turmeric until it becomes golden and crispy on the outside.
Wash, peel and cut the aubergine long ways with half an inch thickness. Sprinkle a little salt all over the slices to drain as much water from the aubergine as possible. Wash and dry the aubergine and set aside to fry.
Meanwhile prepare the walnut mixture by placing the walnut with 2 cups of boiling water in the food processor and blending until completely smooth, about 5-6 minutes. This has to be smooth, read the notes above.
Remove the chicken from the pot and remove most of the oil. Use the same oil so to fry the aubergine until golden.
In the remaining oil sauté the onion until softened. Add the walnut paste and allow to sauté for 2-3 minutes before adding 7 cups of boiling water to the pot. Don't add the water to the pot directly, pour the water into the dish of the food processor to get every bit of that walnut paste into the pot.
Allow the mixture to come to a boil on high heat, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer on low heat for 2 hours. Mix occasionally to ensure that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. After a few hours you will see the colour changing gradually.
Add the molasses and allow to continue simmering on low heat for an extra hour, the more the Fesenjan cooks the darker it will become the aim is to have a dark brown or black colour. You may also need to adjust how much molasses you use depending on the brand and authenticity of the product you are using.
After exactly 3 hours of cooking, add the chicken to the pot along with the rest of the seasoning, by this point you should be able to see a beautiful layer of oil building up on the top and this is the best type of oil as it is the oil extracted out of the walnuts. If you have no oil appearing on the surface, add half a cup of cold water to the pot, but if your Fesenjan is extremely thick then add 1 full cup of cold water. The temperature of the cold water will shock the walnut and it will start to extract the oil.
Meanwhile fry the aubergine until fully browned and once the chicken has been cooking in the pot for 45 minutes, layer the aubergine all over the surface, its absolutely fine if they overlap in the pot, do not mix or stir at this point. The aubergine only sit on the surface in the pot and soaks up the stew.
Brewed saffron in hot water and after pour all over the aubergine. You can gently press down ever so slightly to ensure that the stew is just about covering the aurbgine pieces.
Serve with rice and my Pomegranate Walnut Marinated Persian Olives (Zeyton Parvarde).