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Circassian chicken

Circassian chicken is a dish of tender poached chicken served in a creamy walnut sauce and drizzled with bright red chili oil. Commonly prepared on special occasions, and often served at room temperature on the Turkish meze table with wedges of pita bread, this dish acquired its name for the historic region of Circassia, the area between the Black Sea, the Kuban River, and the Caucasus. The dish allegedly got is name because the color of the sauce is reminiscent of the flaxen hair and fair complexions of the beautiful Circassian women in the sultan’s harem during the Ottoman Empire. With its rich, nutty flavors and unique presentation, this is one of the classical masterpieces of Turkish cuisine.


•  1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)

For the broth:

•  1 medium onion, cut up

•  1 leek, white and green parts, split lengthwise, washed well and chopped

•  1 large carrot, sliced into rounds

•  6 whole cloves

•  6 allspice berries

•  10 black peppercorns

•  5 bay leaves

•  1 teaspoon coriander seeds

For the walnut sauce:

•  6 ounces walnuts, chopped

•  6 large garlic cloves, crushed in a mortar

•  ¼ pound white part of French or Italian bread

•  ½ cup whole milk

•  1 small bunch coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped

•  1 tablespoon walnut oil

•  Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish:

•  1 tablespoon walnut oil

•  2 teaspoons sweet paprika

•  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

•  ¼ cup chopped walnut meats

•  About 20 fresh coriander leaves



  1. Poach the chicken in a large stockpot with the broth ingredients and enough water to almost cover the chicken until the chicken legs and wings look like they could fall off, about 1 hour.. (water should reach a very gentle bubble, shimmering not boiling, cover partially. The broth sbould  never come to a hard boil, otherwise the chicken meat will become tough. 

  2. Remove the chicken from the pot and pull off all the meat from the chicken, discarding all the skin, fat, and bones. Shred the meat into thin strips by pulling it apart with a fork. 

  3. Increase the heat to high under the broth and reduce for 20 minutes. Check the seasoning of the broth and strain.

  4. In a food processor or blender, grind the walnuts and garlic together into a paste. Soak the bread in the milk, then squeeze the liquid out in your hands as if you were making a snowball. Add the bread to the food processor and run until homogenous, scraping down the sides when necessary. 

  5. Transfer the walnut mixture to a large bowl with the coriander leaf and dilute it with spoonfuls of broth until it has a mayonnaise consistency, using about 1 ½ cups of broth in all. 

  6. Add the chicken, mix well, add the cilantro, and bind together with a few more tablespoons of the broth and as many teaspoons of walnut oil as necessary until the entire mixture has a creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

 For the garnish, combine 1 tablespoon walnut oil with the paprika and cayenne and stir. Decorate the top of the dish with the chopped walnuts and the perimeter of the platter with coriander leaves; drizzle the top with the walnut oil mixture. Serve at room temperature with warm French bread or Arab flatbread.

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