Cerkes Tavugu – Circassian Chicken

The answer to what makes Ottoman cuisine so special lies in the wide variety of influences ranging from the Caucasus to the Balkans, from Niles to Euphrates… Even Chinese cuisine had an impact on the Ottomans, as Turks brought an over-1000-year-old heritage from the steppes of Central Asia where they were in close contact with the Chinese. Cuisines of the Caucasus region appear as one of the hundreds of influences within the Ottoman cuisine. Georgian, Laz and Circassian people (one might want to include Armenians and Azeris as well) and their unique ways of preparing food is quite distinctive. Circassian chicken, contrary to what its name suggests, has more likely originated from Georgian territories and is a widely-known dish in today’s Turkey.

But, as in most recipes, Turks now have a tendency to erase the original flavors and spices and either leave the food bland or replace the glorious flavors with awkward and mostly synthetic ingredients. In local cuisines, traditional cooks and mothers still preserve the wide use of spices, but in large cities, it has almost turned into a giant cooking pot where all the special flavors are forgotten and  everything turns around only tomatoes, onions and black pepper. I would have been content with this as well, if only the tomatoes, onions and black pepper tasted like in old times. If time travel becomes possible one day, I am quite ready to sacrifice all bounties of high technology and travel to the old times just to eat good food everyday, good lamb, real cheese and yogurt. Frankly, I hate the fat-free spice-free synthetic environment currently so popular in Istanbul.

If you wish to taste a good Circassian chicken, please follow the recipe below precisely with only the best ingredients:


1 whole chicken, divided into 4-5 pieces preferably free-range organic chicken (I am so lucky to be able to get this from my parents’ farm)

2 teaspoons of sea salt

3 cups of water (more if need be)

1 large onion, halved

2 cloves of garlic

4-5 black pepper corns

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1/2 cup fresh parsley

1/2 cup fresh purple basil

1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

2 teaspoons of ground coriander

1 teaspoon of sea salt

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

200 g (around 2 cups) finely chopped walnuts

100 g (1 cup) roasted corn flour (you can roast it on the stove top in a nonstick ware)


5-6 tablespoons of walnut oil

1 teaspoon of paprika

Mix everything listed in the first section of the ingredients list in a cooking pot or pressure cooker. Reduce  the amount of water to 2 cups if you use pressure cooker, as it will not evaporate as much. Cover, bring to boil and simmer until chicken is cooked, try not to overcook it, it takes around 30 minutes in a regular pot on low heat or 15 minutes in a pressure cooker.

Set aside and let cool off. Then, drain and shred the chicken and discard all the bones, spices and herbs. Keep the broth aside in another bowl, we will use that for the sauce.

Mix everything listed in the second section of ingredients list and add in the broth (it should be luke warm, not hot or cold)  slowly. This is our sauce and it should be creamy, like mayonnaise. Add more liquid (milk or warm water) if needed.

Add in the shredded chicken pieces, taste and add more salt, pepper, coriander depending on your liking. Place the mixture onto a serving plate.

In a pan, warm up walnut oil and add in the paprika until it all turns red. Pour this over the chicken mix. Garnish with halved walnuts. Serve warm or cold. It’s usually served as a meze in Turkey, but I find it great as a main meal as well.  Oh, one more thing: The original recipe calls for extracting the walnut oil from the nuts by mashing them with a stone and squeezing afterwards,  if you find the guts to try it, let me know of how you go.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

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