Monday, 2 February 2015

Chicken with Walnut & Pomegranate Sauce

To be completely honest, this is the type of dish that I would never have considered making at home, if it had not been for the fact that I am currently trying out a whole load of different ways of using walnuts in my cooking and baking. Now, whilst I do love walnuts, I had mostly eaten them as an ‘added’ ingredient in cakes or breads, but not really in many dishes where they were the main focus. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 was that I would be more adventurous and really try to extend my culinary horizons – this dish resulted from that. I was also really pleased with the Roast Chicken and Walnut Pesto dish that I made recently and loved the flavour combination of the walnuts with the chicken so was keen to try other recipes that married these two ingredients together.
 
This dish has its origins in Middle Eastern cookery where walnuts and other nuts are regularly teamed with meat. The inclusion of pomegranate, in the form of pomegranate molasses and the ‘seeds’ of the fresh fruit is also a nod to the cooking of this region.
 
I really wanted to highlight the flavour of the walnuts so placed the shelled nuts on a baking tray and roasted them in a moderate oven for ten minutes. When they cooled, I ground them in my food processor. Roasting the nuts really intensified the flavour and leant the dish a faint background smokiness, which I found very pleasant.
 
I looked at many Middle Eastern recipes and noted that they usually contain added spices but that these are intended to be subtle rather than in-your-face. I added a tiny amount of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, a little cumin and some turmeric and was really pleased with the results.
 
It’s hard to describe the flavours of this dish; there is an underlying sweetness from the pomegranate molasses and inclusion of a little sugar, but this tempers the slight bitterness of the walnuts. As it cooks, the walnuts emulsify to form a thick sauce. Chopped fresh leaf parsley and fresh pomegranate seeds add liveliness to the finished dish, which tastes wonderful and really awakens the palate.
 
This is a dish full of complex and unusual flavours and it is one that I will definitely be making again. I served this dish with a side salad but you could also serve it alongside some steamed rice where it would make a substantial meal.
 
NOTE: Pomegranate molasses can be a little difficult to source in ordinary supermarkets and is an essential ingredient in this recipe. It can be obtained in many Asia markets and also online where I obtained mine.
 

Ingredients:

225g walnuts, shelled weight
500g skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1tblsp olive oil
25g butter
2 large onions, chopped
Large pinch of ground cinnamon
Large pinch of grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
500ml chicken stock
60ml pomegranate molasses
1tblsp sugar
To serve:
Seeds from ½ pomegranate
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Place the walnuts in a single layer in a roasting dish and roast in the oven for approximately 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them and give them a shake after 5 minutes. Do not allow to burn as this will ruin the taste. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
2. When the walnuts have cooled, place in a food processor and pulse them until they are fairly fine but still retain some texture. Do not over-process as this will release their oil.
3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over a moderate heat. Add the chicken breasts and fry on all sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary and sweat over a moderate heat for 5-7 minutes until softened. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and cumin to the onions and fry, stirring all the time, for a further 2 minutes.
4. Return the chicken to the pan and add the stock. Bring everything up to the boil and then reduce so that it is simmering very gently. Do not cover the pan at this stage. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Next add the ground walnuts, the pomegranate molasses and the sugar to the pan and give everything a good stir. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer for a further 25 minutes, during which time the sauce will thicken.
To serve:
6. Add the fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley just before serving. 
 
Serves 4-6.