Persian Duck in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce (Fesenjan)

From Seven Stars of the Fall Harvest by Jessica Prentice

Photos by Jessica Prentice

Photos by Jessica Prentice

Walnut trees and pomegranate trees both thrive in Mediterranean climates, so it’s no surprise to see them paired in Mediterranean recipes as well. A rich, sweet-sour sauce of simmered pomegranate juice and walnuts is the essence of fesenjan, a Persian stew featuring poultry, but sometimes made with lamb, meatballs, or eggplant instead. I use local pomegranate juice produced by Smit Farms or Blossom Bluff Orchards.

Serves 4

1½ cups walnuts
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
Filtered water
4 whole duck legs
¼ cup lime juice (or substitute a different citrus juice)
2 tablespoons ghee
2 medium onions, sliced thinly into rounds or half-moons
1½ cups pomegranate juice
1 cup chicken-bone broth
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
A few gratings of nutmeg
A pinch of saffron
½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt
Additional salt, as needed
More citrus juice, as needed
Honey, as needed
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Optional garnishes:

Fresh pomegranate arils (seeds)
Minced fresh parsley
Toasted walnut pieces

The day before you plan to serve this dish, dissolve ½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt in a bowl with about a cup of filtered water. Add the walnuts plus enough additional water to cover the nuts by 1 to 2 inches. Allow to sit in a warm place overnight. Also, sprinkle the duck legs with the citrus juice and allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour to overnight.

To bake and serve the dish, preheat the oven to 250°. Strain the salt water off the walnuts and using a food processor, purée the walnuts into a paste.

Heat the ghee in a wide heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot and brown the duck legs on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Add the onions to the fat and sauté until translucent. Add the walnut paste and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until the paste begins to brown. Add pomegranate juice, chicken-bone broth, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, salt, and duck legs. Bring to a simmer and then cover and put in the preheated oven.

Let bake for an hour (or more), then remove the pot from the oven and check the duck legs. If the meat is tender, remove the duck legs from the pan and set aside. If not, continue to cook unlidded over low heat on the stove until the duck is tender, then remove.

To make the sauce thick and smooth, transfer the cooking liquid to a smaller pot and purée it using an immersion blender. Return it to the pan and cook, unlidded, stirring frequently, until the sauce gets thick and becomes a chocolate brown color. This could take 20 minutes or more, depending on how thick and dark you want it.

Taste the sauce. If it is too tangy, adjust as needed with salt, citrus juice, honey, and pepper. If you made this dish in advance, you can let the sauce sit for several hours, or even refrigerate the sauce and the duck separately overnight.

When you are almost ready to serve, preheat a broiler. (If the duck legs are cold, put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so to heat through, then proceed.) Put the duck legs in a heat-safe pan and broil until the skin crisps up a bit. Meanwhile, reheat the sauce.

To serve, pour the sauce onto a shallow serving platter. Place the duck legs on top and garnish as desired with parsley, pomegranate arils, and walnut pieces.

Serve with steamed basmati rice and a vegetable.

Recipe by Jessica Prentice