Walnut Chicken; Photo - Danielle Sucher

This started out as an attempt at making Fesenjan, an intense Afghani and Persian concoction of chicken in a thick pomegranate walnut sauce. We 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 (Chinese rice wine) later, this really became a creation of its own.

Maybe someday we'll master the art of cooking Fesenjan, but in the meantime we're happy to eat Walnut Chicken at home and head out to Bamiyan at 26th and 3rd for the best Fesenjan we've ever found.

And for you craftsy types, we'd also like to point out that we made the plate seen in those photos at our favorite glassblowing studio here in Brooklyn, Urban Glass. If you head over there this Friday for Rock the Hot Shop, you will find music, beer, sangria, and a handblown cup for the first 100 people arrive.

Recipe after the jump:

Walnut Chicken
(adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and Josh Welchman)

Walnut oil
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.

Shopping Guide

Pomegranate molasses is a tart pomegranate syrup that can be purchased at absurd prices at gourmet food stores, or inexpensively at Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. It is spectacularly good with dark chocolate.

Walnut oil can also be purchased at Sahadi's. It goes bad fairly quickly at room temperature, so we like to stick it in the fridge as soon as we bring it home so that we'll remember to store it there once it gets opened.

Shaoxing is a type of flavorful Chinese rice wine that you can pick up for less than a dollar per large bottle in most any market in Chinatown. Be sure to pick up the darkly colored liquid. No matter what it says on the bottle, the clear rice wine won't impart that powerful burst of umami.

Walnut Chicken; Photo - Danielle Sucher