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Persian Chicken Stew

Khoresht fesenjan is a Persian stew made with pomegranate juice and walnuts. Chef Matthew Dillon serves this version at his Sitka & Spruce restaurant in Seattle's Melrose Market. His rule No. 1 for making this dish: "Use a thoughtfully and responsibly raised whole chicken."

  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 4

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  • One 4-pound chicken—quartered, backbone and neck reserved, wings saved for another use
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Pinch of saffron threads soaked in 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 dried lime (see Note) or one 3-inch piece of lime zest
  • One 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Couscous, for serving


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil. Add half of the chicken along with the backbone and neck and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining pieces.
  2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the casserole. Add the onion, smashed garlic cloves, raisins and chopped walnuts to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the saffron water, chicken broth, pomegranate juice, cardamom, allspice, dried lime and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Return the chicken pieces to the casserole, skin side up, along with any accumulated juices. Cover and braise the chicken in the oven for about 35 minutes, until the breasts are cooked through.
  3. Transfer the chicken breasts to a medium bowl and keep them warm. Continue braising the dark meat pieces for about 15 minutes, until the legs are cooked through. Transfer the legs to the bowl. Discard the chicken back and neck.
  4. Boil the braising liquid over high heat until it is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Discard the dried lime, cardamom, allspice and cinnamon stick. Add the red wine vinegar and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the chicken pieces to the sauce and simmer them gently until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken stew to shallow bowls and serve with couscous.

Make Ahead

The chicken stew can be refrigerated overnight.


Dried lime is a Middle Eastern ingredient made by boiling fresh lime in salt water, then drying it in the sun. It's sour and tangy. It'savailable at Middle Eastern markets or from kalustyans.com.

Serve With

Sliced pink or red grapefruits and oranges, sprinkled lightly with rose water and cinnamon.

Suggested Pairing

The fragrant spices in this Persian chicken dish make it perfect for a bold red like a Spanish Garnacha.

Contributed By Photo © Quentin Bacon Published January 2011

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