Circassian chicken or Çerkez tavuğu (cher-KEZ' TAH'-voo-oo) is sure to become a favorite Turkish recipe. It's a great example of how Turkish cooks make fancy, flavorful and nutritious dishes out of very simple and inexpensive ingredients.
History of the Dish
Circassian chicken is a rich paste made with crushed walnuts, chicken, and stock thickened with stale bread. It's served cold as an appetizer and makes a great dish for entertaining.
It's very satisfying and full of flavor, so a little goes a long way. A spoonful or two with some toasted bread or crackers is actually very filling.
So, if this is a Turkish dish, who are the Circassians? The Circassians were a tribal people historically inhabiting the stretch of land separating the Black Sea with the Caspian Sea.
Today, this area is known as the Caucasus which borders modern Turkey in the northeast. Circassian chicken made its way into Turkish cuisine during the Ottoman period when the Ottoman Empire controlled much of this region.
Today, Circassian chicken is an appetizer or meze of choice in Turkey and served to special guests at home or in better restaurants. Try it at your next open buffet or as a spread for crackers next time you have guests.
- 5 pounds chicken (1 whole chicken)
- 1 onion (peeled)
- 1 large carrot (peeled)
- 5 slices white bread (stale, crusts removed)
- 1 pound walnuts (crushed)
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 3 teaspoons paprika (sweet)
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Garnish: paprika and whole walnut halves
- Wash your chicken and place it in a large, covered saucepan. Fill the pan with water to just cover the chicken. Add the salt, pepper, peeled onion and carrot whole. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat. Let the chicken simmer slowly until the meat is falling off the bones.
- While your chicken is cooking, you can crush your walnuts. The traditional way is to crush them between two layers of wax paper using a rolling pin. This allows the natural oil from the walnuts to blend with the mixture for the best flavor and consistency. If you're in a hurry, you can process the walnuts in a food processor to make a fine powder.
- Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, keep the pan covered and let it cool down. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove it from the broth and put it on a separate platter. Remove the onion and carrot and discard them.
- Wearing rubber gloves, separate all the meat from the bones, and discard all the bones, skin and grizzle. Then pull the large chunks of meat into small strips.
- While the broth is still warm, strain it through a fine wire strainer into a large bowl. Add your stale bread to the broth in the bowl and break it up with your fingers so there are no large pieces of bread.
- Add the crushed walnuts, crushed garlic and paprika and mix together well. Lastly, add the shredded chicken and mix until combined. Adjust the salt to your taste. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
- To prepare your dish for serving, spread the mixture in a shallow serving dish. Decorate the top with walnut halves. Mix one teaspoon of paprika with one tablespoon of olive oil and drizzle the 'red' oil over the top for the final touch.