Circassian Chicken

Çerkez Tavuğu

Circassia is a mountainous region in southern Russia where walnut trees grow in abundance. In the nineteenth century, many Circassians were driven out of Russia and took refuge in parts of the Ottoman Empire where they proceeded to introduce new cooking techniques. Turks, who thought chicken came on skewers, now learned they could eat it cold, smothered in a walnutty paste.

Coriander is one of my pet hates, and I don’t use it in my restaurant, but I’ve included it here to honour the Circassians, who brought it to Turkey.

Ingredients

  • 2 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley stalks
  • 2 coriander (cilantro) stalks
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.2 kg/2 lb 10 oz)
  • 3 slices day-old sandwich bread
  • 200 g (7 oz) walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) walnut oil
  • pide bread, to serve (to make your own, see)

Method

Pick the leaves off the parsley and coriander, and set aside. Put the parsley and coriander stalks in a saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, salt, peppercorns, chicken and about 3 litres (105 fl oz/12 cups) of water. Place the pan over high heat and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 1½ hours. Remove any scum that forms on the surface.

Take the chicken out of the pan, place on a rack and leave to cool to room temperature. Leave the cooking liquid in the pan and set aside.

Remove the skin from the chicken and pick the meat off the bones. Place the skin and bones back in the cooking liquid and bring to the boil over high heat. Continue to boil vigorously for 1½ hours, uncovered, so the liquid reduces to half its original volume.

Strain the bones, skin and vegetables out of the chicken stock, and discard. Shred the chicken meat and spread the pieces on a deep serving platter. Pour on 2 tablespoons of stock, cover with plastic wrap and place the platter in the fridge. Discard the crusts from the bread. Dunk the bread into the stock for a few seconds then squeeze out any excess liquid. Blend the bread, walnuts, garlic and 1 tablespoon of the paprika in a food processor. Gradually add some stock, tablespoons at a time, to make a smooth paste.

Remove the serving platter from the fridge. Put the chicken in a bowl, stir one-third of the paste through the chicken pieces, then spread them across the platter again. Chop the parsley and coriander leaves and mix them with the remaining paste, then pour this paste over the chicken. Mix the walnut oil and the remaining paprika together, and drizzle over the chicken.

Serve the çerkez tavuğu platter cold, with pide bread, for people to help themselves.