Lamb Fesenjan with Opies Pickled Walnuts.
#Ad: Written in Conjunction with Opies
My first attempt at a Lamb Fesenjan, inspired by trying the dish in a Persian restaurant in London, was a sticky and very sweet mixture which bore little resemblance to the dish I’d enjoyed. The original, served to me at a restaurant called Iran in Shepherd Market, was a perfect balance of richness that left me craving more. My own feeble attempt just gave me a sugar rush of the worst kind! Over the years, I’ve tempered the ingredients so that I’m adding just a touch of pomegranate molasses and far fewer walnuts too. The principal components of a Fesenjan are meat, pomegranate molasses and walnuts, much the same ingredients that make up my version. But, since my only reference points are one meal out and a random assortment of recipes I’ve found on the internet, I hesitate to call the dish I enjoy Fesenjan, although that was definitely the inspiration. This next-level version uses the spiced and pickled walnuts from Opies to include more walnuts in a way that offsets the pomegranate molasses without making the sauce too thick. It creates a rich sweet-sour sauce that I really enjoyed. And, I think the spicing within the jar itself works brilliantly if the concept is not in any way authentic.
Pickled Walnuts were particularly popular in England during the early 18th century. You’ll find references to them in recipe books of the time and a little later on, in Charles Dickens’ ‘The Pickwick Papers’ where the Bagman recounts stories about his uncle
He was pitched out of his gig once, and knocked, head first, against a milestone. There he lay, stunned, and so cut about the face with some gravel which had been heaped up alongside it…the first faint glimmerings of returning animation, were his jumping up in bed, bursting out into a loud laugh, kissing the young woman who held the basin, and demanding a mutton chop and a pickled walnut. He was very fond of pickled walnuts, gentlemen. He said he always found that, taken without vinegar, they relished the beer.
Over 40 years ago now, Opies began to recreate this Victorian delicacy sourcing walnuts from across the UK and Europe. Harvesting the walnuts when they are still green and in their prime, from mid-June to the end of July means that all the nuts must be picked by hand. They are preserved in barrels and taken to the Opies production kitchens in Kent. The nuts are gently cooked, hand-prepared and packed by hand into jars. They are then left to mature in a closely-guarded secret spiced malt vinegar recipe.
I’ve already written about some of the ways I use pickled walnuts and shared a recipe for rump steak with blue cheese and pickled walnuts. They are always in my store-cupboard – an easy way to dress up a cheese or charcuterie board, but also great to include in recipes for a subtle taste that your guests might struggle to place. I’m not alone either, I rather like the story of Fergus Henderson (from St John’s restaurant) who met Chairman, William Opie along with Managing Director, Christopher Opie and confessed he’d been trying his best to make his own. But, after years of trying, eventually, he gave up – and now leaves it to the experts. They are popular with Nathan Outlaw, Marcus Wareing and even Mary Berry too.
In the Fesenjan I use a whole jar of walnuts. All but two were chopped finely and used to make a rich sauce. The final two walnuts were drained and sliced into four to serve – two pieces per person! I also used some walnuts, a few teaspoons of pomegranate molasses, an onion, 800g of lamb and some chicken stock. That was it. I didn’t add any more spices (though some recipes for Fesenjan do include cinnamon and other spices). The result was delicious sprinkled with a garnish of parsley and some fresh pomegranate seeds and served on a bed of saffron rice. It was better still the next day. The lamb was meltingly tender and the sauce a piquant sweet-sour creamy mixture that was delicious spooned over the rice but would have been lovely with couscous or even mashed potato or polenta. What impressed me most was that the dish was in no way heavy or over-sweet, though if you decide to try for yourself you might want to add more or even less pomegranate molasses to suit your own palate.
Here’s the recipe to try at home.
An adaptation of a traditional Persian recipe to include Pickled Walnuts
- 800 g stewing lamb cut into 1cm cubes
- 1 medium brown onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 jar Opies pickled walnuts
- 3 tsp pomegranate molasses
- 100 ml chicken stock
- 50 g walnuts
- 1 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Peel and chop the onion finely
Heat the oven to 150c
Heat the oil in a cast iron casserole
Brown the lamb in batches and remove from the pan
Add the onion and stew on a low to medium heat for 8 minutes
Add the garlic and stew for a further 2 minutes
Meanwhile, grind the walnuts into a fine 'flour' and liquidise all the pickled walnuts except 2
Return the lamb to the casserole and add the walnut mixtures, the chicken stock and 3 tsp of pomegranate molasses
Season well with salt and pepper
Bring to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover and place in the oven
Cook for at least 1hr 30 minutes until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced down, if necessary removing the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking
Either serve immediately or leave overnight
To serve, slice the remaining walnuts into 4 pieces and lay on top of the Fesenjan
Garnish with parsley and fresh pomegranate
Serve with saffron rice or couscous
What to drink with your lamb, pomegranate and walnut stew? I’d suggest this lovely Christmas mocktail with pomegranate and apple we shared last year. And for dessert, how about this peach melba frangipane tart? Another great product from Opies that I keep on hand for emergency puddings!
My pimped up Lamb Fesenjan freezes really well and can easily be made in advance (without the final sliced pickled walnuts, parsley and fresh pomegranate). But, I doubt you’ll have much left over!