Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze) with Cornish Game Hens

Updated from the archives November 13, 2009:

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze with Cornish Game Hens) 1

"Your chicken was soooooooooooooooooo good," said lil' sis last night. "Soooooooooooooo good. I scarfed it down."

I made fessenjan (Persian walnut pomegranate glaze) with Cornish game hens and dill rice. At turns tart and sweet, the glaze is a perfect accompaniment to poultry or spooned over rice. To lil' sis, fessenjan means yummy dinner, but to me, fessenjan was the beginning of my culinary wanderings.

Before college, I hardly ever went out to eat, and if I did, it was with family so it was always either Chinese or Vietnamese cuisine. My freshman year of college, I was in a dorm of 39 people with 16 different ethnicities. The close-knit atmosphere meant we eventually all got introduced to each other's culture and cuisine. Every time I make fessenjan, I get transported back to my freshman year, to the beginning of my discovery of other cuisines.

My Persian friend wanted some homecooking. It was a record-breaking winter that year - with windchill factor of 80 degrees below 0. There were frostbite warnings aplenty. I learned not to go outside with wet hair because it would literally turn to icicles within minutes. Maybe I love fessenjan so much because I had to work for it.

I had to bundle up to go outside -- two pairs of socks, leggings, pants, tank top, T-shirt, flannel shirt (It was the grunge era, OK?), wool sweater, scarf, winter coat, mittens, earmuffs.

Then we had to trek 15 minutes to the el station.

Enter warm train for short ride.

Exit warm train into blistery cold platform to await transfer.

Enter another warm train.

Exit warm train.

Walk another 15 minutes in biting cold to Reza's Restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.

Oh, but it was so worth it. Blustery snow blowing outside, warm heat flowing inside, friends gathered 'round, and the most succulent Cornish game hen dish ever.

I've tried other Persian restaurants through the years, but haven't found one that uses Cornish game hens for their fessenjan. Dry chicken breast and skimpy sauce doesn't fill me with nostalgia. :(

So I make my own. This is such a startlingly flavorful dish, that's very simple to prepare. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze with Cornish Game Hens) 2

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut Pomegranate Glaze) with Cornish Game Hens

For 4 servings, you'll need:

2 Cornish game hens, cut in half. (I use heavy-duty kitchen shears for ease.) Duck or chicken may be substituted
1 small onion
1/2 cup walnuts, or more according to taste
1/2 cup pomegranate glaze/syrup, or more according to taste. (Pomegranate glaze can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores, or Trader Joe's. Double the amount if using pomegranate juice.)
1 tsp salt

1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp tomato paste

Puree one small onion and 1/2 cup walnuts until a thick paste is formed. Add 1/2 cup pomegranate syrup. The mixture will still be pretty thick. Spread paste on both sides of Cornish game hens and allow to marinate for several hours or overnight if you wish. I've also cooked the fessenjan without marination with no problems since the cooking time will thicken the juices and concentrate the flavors.

On medium heat, in a large saute pan (mine is 20 inches so I can fit all 4 pieces, but if you have a smaller pan then divide meat and sauce accordingly), add Cornish game hens and marinade. Cook for about 15 minutes, flip, and cook the other side for another 15 minutes or until glaze is thickened to your liking.

The marinade will then become more of a glaze like the picture below, coating the Cornish game hens.

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze with Cornish Game Hens) 3

Alternatively, you can bake the game hens, breast side-down at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Then breast side-up at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

And eek!

Time to look at that old photo that needed updating. For one of my favorite recipes, this photo really didn't do it justice.

Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze with Cornish Game Hens) 4

I've also made fessenjan with roast duck which turned out even better.

Serve with zafarani polow (Persian saffron rice) or Persian Dill Rice. Dill rice is really meant for lamb or beef dishes, but Reza's let me substitute and so I serve the two together just for the memories.

My other Persian recipes:
Albalu Polow (Persian Sour Cherry Rice)
Fessenjan (Persian Walnut-Pomegranate Glaze with Roast Duck)
Persian Dill Rice
Zafarani Polow (Persian Saffron Rice)

Note: If you can't find pomegranate glaze, you can substitute with pomegranate juice. The nice folks at POM Wonderful sent me a complimentary case of pomegranate juice last year and I've been remiss in thanking them. I have purchased the pomegranate iced tea blends before when they were on sale, but have always found the pure pomegranate juices a bit expensive. I found the POM Wonderful to be well, wonderful. Much thicker than other juices, if I could describe it in such a way. And really, a good substitute if you can't find pomegranate syrup where you are.

Pom Wonderful

By the way, I always thought they just had a clever name, but apparent "Wonderful" is a type of pomegranate. I think my pink pomegranates are "Green Globes."


  1. You sure knows how to diversify your taste buds :) Your pomegranate use is really great, goes really well w/poultry. The dill-flavored rice is v/similar to my Malaysian taste bud, using loads of herbs & chopped leaves ie.kaffir limes & a bunch of other aromatic leaves. Great recipe there :)

    btw, thx for linking me, cheers !:)

  2. Delish... just by feasting with eyes. I tried the pomergranate fruit only very recently. Maybe I can get the glaze or fruit itself from TJs and try a hand at your hen ;p

  3. Hi Melting Wok,
    I haven't had Malaysian food too often but I do love everything I've tried. And yes, it's because of all those lovely herbs that makes it so good. :)

    Let me know how it turns out.

  4. i love Fessenjan!!! the first time i ate it, it tasted weird, but as i continued eating it, it became very addicting. it's one of my fav persian dishes now.

    i will have to learn how to make it one day.


  5. Hey Henry,
    Haven't heard from you in a while.

    Try my recipe. It's easy. :)

  6. I think I'm in love. I'm just not sure it it's with you or the chicken.


    Ok, getting married in July so it'll have to be the chicken. Thanks for the recipe. I'll make it soon!

    - Chubbypanda

  7. CP, I bet you say that to all the girls. ;)

    Didn't know your date was so soon. Congrats!

  8. would this have the same taste if baked? it looks good.

  9. Hi Buddingcook,
    You can certainly try. But I can only vouch for my method in creating this particular glaze and thickened sauce.

  10. I'm looking forward to summer/fall when I can finally get some fresh pomegranates. I'll be making this as well as the jeweled rice.

    By the way, thanks for the greek mythology clarification in the previous post:)

  11. Christine,
    Hehe, yeah, I'm kinda anal about accuracy. I hate it when other people introduce errors when my name is attached.

    I hope you make the roast duck and saffron rice version. It looks so much prettier!

  12. hi wc - that looks so delicious! i love cornish game hen! i can't wait to try this recipe. seems quite easy to do!

  13. It looks delicious & I can see this being served at Christmas since it looks so festive!

  14. How wonderful that looks!

    A persian neighbor introduced me to Fessenjan and I've loved it ever since. Hers was more of a stew, yours looks so pretty : )

    I've found pomegranate syrup (concentrate) at Super King, Jon's Markets, and most persian and armenian markets.

  15. CC,
    Easy and so flavorful.

    SB R&R,
    All that red and green is definitely very holiday-looking!

    It was my Persian friend in college who introduced it to me. Sometimes I end up with quite a bit of sauce that makes it seem like a stew.

  16. I absolutely love fessenjan. I can't think of winter without getting a craving for it. I discovered it years ago at a local Persian restaurant (that has long since closed *sigh*) in North County San Diego. They are the only place I've ever had it made from game hen and with a thick glaze. I too seem to find most places serve a watery mess with a skimpy piece of chicken thigh in it. I miss the fessenjan I know and love and it looks like you just taught me how to do it right!! I can't wait to try this recipe out!


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