I’ve given you balls up to your ears; now, at long last, I shall deliver on my promise to give you walnuts.
By necessity, I’ve learned how to cook ethnic. I can bake pita bread (since our grocery stores consider this too exotic), fix a mean baklava, do a delicious baba ganouj or hummus. My Chinese stir fries are passable, yet better than the local fare, and my Indian cuisine is excellent. One of our favorite dishes is leftover tandoori chicken stewed in a sauce of onions and cream.
Tonight, I felt like doing something special with duck. Cassoulet takes days to prepare, and Peking duck at least a full day, so that meant either pan-seared duck breast or fesenjan. Karen opted for fesenjan.
Ninety percent of the labor comes from boning the duck, so if you want to substitute boneless chicken thighs and breasts, be my guest.
1. Skin and bone the duck. (Use the carcass to make a quick stock, and render the fat from the skin. Fried duck skin is great all by itself, but it’s also yummy on salads. Duck fat can be substituted for butter or olive oil for any savory dish. I use it to make chopped chicken liver.) Chop the meat into one-inch pieces and sprinkle the pieces with salt and freshly ground pepper.
2. Meanwhile, toast 2 cups of walnuts in the oven at 350F until, erm, toasty. Don’t let ‘em burn. Do let them cool, then grind them in a food processor. You want the mixture to be a little coarse.
3. In a heavy-bottomed pot (a Dutch oven works great), brown the duck meat in two or three tablespoons of butter. Set the browned meat aside in a glass bowl to catch the drippings.
4. Chop a large onion — fine, coarse, doesn’t really matter. Fry the onions in the leftover butter. If you’d like, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the onions towards the end of the frying. You want the onions to be golden, or a little darker.
5. Add to the onions the duck and its drippings, the ground walnuts, about 1 cup of pomegranate paste, and 1 to 2 cups of stock. Start with one cup of stock, stir the ingredients, and add more stock until you get the desired consistency. (You know — like stew!) Here’s an online Persian Grocery that sells pomegranate paste and oh my heavens zereshk berries, too! Now I can make zereshk polo.
6. Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar, and adjust the salt to taste. Add more pomegranate paste if you’d like your stew a bit more sour, or (if you’re like my wife) you just love pomegranate. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. For tender meat, you want to brown the meat as quickly as possible, and then simmer as gently as possible. Remember, dark meat doesn’t toughen up nearly as readily as white meat, so if you’re using chicken, you may want to use nothing but thigh meat.
8. Serve over basmati rice. (Yes, that Persian Grocery sells basmati, too.) Best basmati rice: rinse a cup of rice, boil the rice in LOTS of salted water until it is not quite tender, then strain the rice. In a non-stick or heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter. Layer the rice on top of the butter. Put the lid on the pot. Now, let the rice steam by keeping the pot over a very low heat for, I dunno, 15 to 30 minutes. It will be done long before 30 minutes, but that doesn’t matter. If you do it right (and believe me, this is an art I still haven’t quite mastered) you’ll have a delicious golden brown crust of rice at the bottom of the pot.