The jewel in the crown of khoreshes (traditional Persian saucy stews), fesenjan is a Rosh Hashanah treasure on many Iranian-Jewish tables. A blend of pomegranate and walnut giving way to an exquisite tango of tart and sweet, the sauce is served with duck—and less often, other poultry, veal, lamb, or meatballs, too—always accompanied by copious amounts of rice.
Older recipes usually call for cooking the meat in the sauce, but I prefer to roast the duck separately; the flavors taste cleaner and there’s no fat to skim. Instead I add quinces to turn meltingly tender infused with the sauce, which is subtly sweetened with dates.
If you can’t find duck breasts, fesenjan is also delicious served with grilled or roasted chicken thighs or whole ducklings; it can also stand up to grilled steak or roasted beef. This recipe makes quite a bit of the rich sauce, so you can dish it up Iranian-Jewish style: a generous amount of rice topped with sauce, along with a modest amount of duck. Or present it in typical American fashion to fewer guests, with more meat and less rice; freeze leftover sauce and pair it with grilled poultry or meat for a quick, celebratory meal in the future.
Cook’s Note: I always taste nuts first to make sure they have not turned rancid. Once, as I started to prepare this fesenjan, I found out too late that my walnuts were stale, and had to substitute pecans. Their rich, slightly sweet edge married beautifully with the other ingredients, and even guests who find walnuts a tad too bitter for their tastes, especially children, loved the sauce. Though purists may scoff, I usually make fesenjan with pecans now.
This dish was featured as part of our Hanukkah Recipes photo gallery.