Persian-Inspired Cornish Hens with Pomegranate Walnut Sauce is all about that rich, velvety, nuanced sauce. It’s slow food cooked with love, and perfect for a unique twist on holiday entertaining.
This year I decided I wanted to feature a beautiful holiday meal that serves just four people. It’s equally appropriate for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or any time you’re having an intimate festive gathering.
A lot of people use turkey breast or roast chicken when they’re making a smaller holiday dinner and don’t need a full turkey. For my menu, I kept the poultry idea, but put just a little twist on it and went with Cornish hens as my main course. Each hen (just under two pounds each) serves two people, so two hens is perfect for my menu of four.
I took inspiration from a Persian dish called Fesenjan. The flavor of rich, nutty toasted walnuts is brightened by the fruitiness of pomegranate molasses (which is literally just pomegranate juice that’s been reduced to a thick syrupy sauce; you can find it at Middle Eastern grocery stores or you can find it on Amazon – I like this brand), and warm spices add complexity. The end result is a luscious sauce and fall-apart tender meat that’s perfect served on top of some kind of pilaf to soak up all the liquid. It’s an enchanting dish.
For the rest of my intimate holiday meal, I’m going to be sharing my recipes for Orange and Toasted Almond Saffron Rice Pilaf with Golden Raisins and Roasted Winter Squash Salad with Spiced Walnuts, Red Currants, and Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette. They will be up on the blog before Thanksgiving so if you want to make the full menu for that holiday you’ll be all set to do so.
Other than roast turkey or chicken, what are some of your favorite holiday meals?
- 1½ cups (170 g) walnuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Cornish hens (about 1¾ lbs each), giblets removed, rinsed, patted dry, and excess fat and wing tips trimmed off
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1½ cups (355 ml) chicken stock
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) pomegranate molasses
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, steeped 3 minutes in 2 tablespoons boiling water
- ¼ cup pomegranate arils, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as mint or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread out the walnuts on a large baking sheet and toast until aromatic and golden, about 8 to 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through. Let the nuts cool, and then process them in a food process until finely ground.
- Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat; once hot, brown the hens on both sides (about 4 to 5 minutes per side). Transfer the hens to a plate.
- Add the onion to the Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until softened and just starting to caramelize in spots, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in the stock, pomegranate molasses, honey, salt, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and saffron water; bring the sauce up to a simmer, and then add the hens.
- Cover the pot, turn the heat down to low, and cook until the hens are fully cooked, about 1 hour, flipping the hens over halfway through. Gently stir the sauce every 20 minutes or so, so it doesn’t stick on the bottom. Transfer the hens to a platter. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, turn up the heat to medium and cook the sauce until it’s thick and velvety, stirring frequently.
- To serve, transfer the hens to a serving platter and ladle the sauce on top. Sprinkle on the pomegranate arils and the herbs.
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