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