Poultry Perfection

Persian Quail with Pomegranate Walnut Sauce (Fesenjan)

November 24, 2020

Sweet, tart, earthy and rich, this beautiful celebratory Persian dish originated thousands of years ago in the Iranian province of Gilan on the Caspian Sea. You may have seen fesenjan served as a chicken stew, but here, I’ve elevated the dish by serving the sauce with honey-and-spice-glazed grilled quail–a gorgeous presentation for fall and winter feasts. If you prefer? Swap out the quail for grilled bone-in chicken.

A few notes on the recipe: Pomegranate walnut sauce features pomegranate molasses, a tart, thick syrup you’ll find at Middle Eastern grocery stores or, those more-broadly specializing in ethnic ingredients. There you will also find the pomegranates, pomegranate juice, and spices in the recipe. For the walnuts, removing the pellicle–the tannin-laden membrane covering the meat of each nut, yields a more mellow nut flavor. So easy to do: You just rub the walnuts in clean kitchen towels after toasting and the membrane comes right off. (I also do this now to mellow-out walnuts that go into cookies and baked goods.) For the chicken stock, use low-sodium because the flavors intensify over an hour of simmering and you don’t want the result to be over-salted.

For local access to fresh quail visit a live-poultry purveyor. Or, easier still: Go on-line to N.J.-based D’Artagnan, which will ship fresh, free-range quail overnight.

Persian Quail with Pomegranate Walnut Sauce (Fesenjan)

Persian Quail with Pomegranate Walnut Sauce (Fesenjan)


  • Serves 4
  • For the Marinade:
  • Four fresh quail, each halved lengthwise
  • Juice of ½ fresh lemon, to make 2 Tbsp
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced and crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds, ground fine
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • For the Pomegranate Walnut Sauce
  • 8 ounces shelled walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds, ground fine
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 rounded Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • ¼ cup pure cane sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ¾ cups homemade or high-quality low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh-squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • For the Glaze:
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • ½ tsp cardamom seeds, coarsely ground
  • For garnish:
  • Arils of one fresh pomegranate
  • ¼ cup of the toasted walnuts


  1. Make marinade: In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon juice and garlic. In a coffee or spice mill, pulse the cardamom seeds into powder. Add cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric to the lemon/garlic mixture. Place the quail, which you have halved lengthwise (each piece will have a leg and wing, and half of a breast) into the marinade and massage the quail with the marinade to ensure all pieces are coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.
  2. Make the Pomegranate Walnut Sauce: With the oven rack at center position, preheat oven to 350. Spread a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cover with the walnuts, evenly spread. Toast the walnuts for about 7 minutes until fragrant and golden brown. Lift parchment paper with walnuts from tray and pour onto a clean kitchen towel. Rub the walnuts with the towel to remove as much of the pellicle (skin membrane) of the walnuts as possible. Repeat again with a clean towel. Chop the cleaned toasted nuts to medium fine with a nut grinder, food processor, or sharp kitchen knife. The nut pieces should not be chopped too finely. Remove ¼ cup of the chopped nuts to a small bowl and set aside to garnish the finished dish.
  3. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil and chopped onion and cook slowly for three minutes. Once the onion begins to be translucent, add ¼ cup water and continue cooking until the onion is very soft and the water has evaporated. Stir in the spices and tomato paste and cook for another two minutes. Add the toasted, chopped walnuts, pomegranate molasses & juice, sugar, bay leaf and chicken stock. Stir well. Increase heat to medium high and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick. Right before serving, stir in a little fresh lemon juice to suit your taste.
  4. Make glaze: While the pomegranate walnut sauce is simmering, prepare the glaze. Combine olive oil, pomegranate molasses and honey in small heat-proof bowl. Add boiling water and stir to dissolve. In a coffee or spice mill, pulse the cardamom seeds just until coarsely ground. Stir cardamom, salt and pepper into the liquid.
  5. Grill Quail: Heat a char grill over high heat. Remove quail pieces from marinade. Grill skin-side-up for 3 to 4 minutes. Brush with glaze. Flip quail skin-side down for a scant 2 minutes to finish cooking and add grill marks. Remove quail from grill and keep warm.
  6. Assemble: For each serving, spoon a generous portion of the pomegranate walnut sauce onto each plate. Center two quail halves on the sauce. Sprinkle the grilled quail with pomegranate arils and a bit of the chopped toasted walnut.

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