(JTA via The Nosher) – I was initially an Instant Pot doubter. I love both my Dutch oven and my stock pot, and I love letting the kitchen slowly fill with warmth as things simmer and cook for hours while I putz around the house. Then I got married and an Instant Pot (real talk: Instapot) literally showed up on my doorstep. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I put it in the closet and forgot about it for at least six months.
And then I heard about making rice in the Instant Pot. My first pot of sushi rice instantly made me a convert. My first vegetable stock changed my feelings about how stock can best be made. My first batch of chickpeas led me to making hummus on a more regular basis. Rice, stock and beans are all great in the Instant Pot, but I still carried some skepticism about cooking other things. Chicken? What’s wrong with cooking it in the oven?
Turns out, chicken in the pressure cooker is delicious. It ends up deeply infused with any added aromatic or spice, it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender and requires much less attention than cooking it on the stove.
As documented by the queen of Jewish cooking, Joan Nathan, and by Georgian food guru Carla Capalbo, the Georgian Jewish community traditionally makes chicken cooked in pomegranate juice for Rosh Hashanah. It’s a perfect recipe for the High Holy Days: sweet, tart, flavorful and eye-catching. The chicken is braised in a generously spiced, fruity pomegranate juice-based broth and then topped with fresh red jewel-like pomegranate kernels.
The pomegranate juice adds sweetness, but there’s also an assertive tang that comes through, especially with the addition of tamarind and pomegranate molasses. The copious amounts of onion and garlic add sweet savoriness to the dish. The coriander, hot pepper (not too hot) and thyme play off each other with their respective aromas, heat and mintiness. It is Rosh Hashanah, so a hint of honey makes its way into the pot to remind you of sweetness without being at the forefront.
After 15 minutes at high pressure, the chicken barely clings to its bones and the sauce becomes rich; fortified by the golden schmaltz left over from browning the chicken. Take out the chicken and let that liquid simmer (still in the Instant Pot), and the mahogany-colored sauce will thicken and become silky and as decadent as a festive meal demands.
Once the chicken and sauce are plated, you shower them with the bright green herbs and the glistening ruby red pomegranate seeds. Dark meat works best for this, but you can certainly make it with white meat as well. And like all great holiday dishes, you can make this several days in advance – it only gets better when reheated. It also freezes well, just leave the fresh garnish until right before serving.
Note: This recipe can easily be doubled. You can find tamarind paste and pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern stores, Whole Foods or online.
Georgian Pomegranate Chicken
12 whole chicken legs, or 6 bone-in thighs plus 6 legs (about 4 pounds)
Oil, as needed
3 medium red onions, halved and sliced thin
4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon honey
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Arils/seeds of 1 pomegranate
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish
Salt and pepper, as needed
Generously season chicken with salt and pepper.
Turn Instant Pot or pressure cooker to the sauté setting. If needed increase the heat to More or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the pot is hot, add a drizzle of oil. Brown chicken until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Cook the chicken in batches so as not to crowd the pot. On the stovetop, brown the chicken in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Transfer it from the pot and reserve.
Next, add the onions to the same pot so that they can cook in the remaining fat. If your chicken did not release very much oil, add another tablespoon or 2 to the pot. Season the onions with salt and sauté for 5-6 minutes or until softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic, coriander and paprika and sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir everything until the onion mixture is well-coated. Nestle the reserved browned chicken back into the pot. Press Cancel to turn off the sauté function on the pot. Follow the same steps on a stovetop.
Add the pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, tamarind paste, honey, thyme and bay leaf to the pot. Place the lid on the Instant Pot, close the pot and seal it. Press the Poultry or Manual setting and set the time to 15 minutes. Let the steam naturally release for 10-15 minutes; shift the valve to venting if more air needs to be released. On the stovetop, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes on medium-low or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Press Cancel, open the lid and transfer the chicken to a platter and lightly cover with foil to keep warm. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems. Turn on the Saute function again. Allow to simmer and reduce until it has reached desired thickness. On the stovetop, turn the heat to medium-high and simmer.
Once reduced and thickened, pour the sauce over the chicken. At this point you can keep warm in a low oven, or cool and freeze if making in advance.
Before serving, garnish with the pomegranate and herbs
SONYA SANFORD is a chef, food stylist, and writer based out of Los Angeles.