One of my favorite aspects of Turkish cuisine is the use of nuts in both sweet and savory recipes. In the United States, we typically use nuts on for snacking or in desserts so when walnuts are ground with garlic and mixed with chicken, my eyes open wide and my mouth begins to get excited. The resulting dish is fragrant and flavorful, awakening all of your senses.
Doesn’t it look a little bit like a chicken volcano? My photo doesn’t look as sophisticated as the one in the cookbook but I’ve convinced myself that the rustic look of mine is far more appealing. Once plated, the Cerkez Tavugu is drizzled with a melted butter and paprika mixture. The contrast in colors is beautiful but as I drizzled it down the sides I flashed back to a 4th grade science project where I made something similar but much less edible.
This is my favorite Turkish dish so far – the Cerkez Tavugu is amazing. The pale color is deceptive and makes the dish look bland and possibly uninteresting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The first bite sent a shock wave through my body. You are hit by the garlic instantly then the subtle chicken and walnuts take over. The texture is surprisingly light and somewhat creamy.
Nuts are something which evoke comfort for me. My childhood was filled with harvesting nut trees on our farm and storing them for later use throughout the winter. They were used in all sorts of cakes, muffins, pancakes, and pies but I wish we had known then what I know now. There are so many uses for nuts for me to explore. Not only is the history of nuts lengthy it is filled with a rich heritage of how they’ve been used by cultures throughout the world.
Cerkez Tavugu makes perfect use of tender and rich walnuts. Cenk and Farida both confirmed that this is a much-loved Turkish dish. Although it can be served on its own, you can also serve crusty chunks of bread or even rice alongside of it. I opted to use a crispy pugliese bread.
The dish begins by poaching a small chicken and making a chicken stock. This process is the piece which takes the most time but does yield the best flavor and texture in the chicken. Alternatively, I can image you could poach chicken breasts and use a prepared stock to reduce the time needed to make this dish.
Chicken with Walnuts (Cerkez Tavugu)
adapted from The Food and Cooking of Turkey
1 3-4lb chicken, trimmed of excess fat
4 slices day-old bread, crusts removed
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cup walnuts
4 garlic cloves
For the stock
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
4 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, tied
For the garnish
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon paprika (or kirmizi biber)
cilantro (coriander) leaves
Place the chicken and stock ingredients into a large stockpot. Add just enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cover the pot – simmer for about an hour. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool until you are able to work with it. Bring the stock to a boil and cook for an additional 15 minutes until reduced. Remove from heat.
Using your fingers or forks, remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Remove the meat and shred into thin strips. Place the meat into a large mixing bowl.
To a small bowl, add the torn up or cubed day-old bread. I didn’t have any old bread on hand so I placed fresh bread into a 250F oven for 15 minutes to dry it out. Add the milk to the bread. It will take a few minutes for the bread to fully absorb all of the milk.
Now it’s time to mash the walnuts and garlic. You are trying to create a uniform paste and can do so with either a mortar and pestle or a food processor. I don’t have a mortar that is large enough, so I opted to use a small food processor (a major time saver as well).
Next, it’s time to begin mixing ingredients together to form the cerkez tavugu. Begin by beating the soaked bread into the nut mixture. The milk and nuts will form a thick and creamy fragrant mixture. Add the chicken to the nut mixture and mix until just combined. Beat in a ladle or two of warm chicken stock until the mix becomes light and fluffy. I estimate that I used about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of stock in total.
Spoon the mixture onto a serving platter and sprinkle with fresh cilantro leaves. Melt the butter and stir in paprika, then drizzle over the cerkez tavugu. Serve at room temperature.
This recipe would be perfect for entertaining and I know my friends would love it. As you can see from the recipe, it uses a large amount of raw garlic so anyone bothered by raw garlic should avoid it. I have seen on a few blogs lately where it’s mentioned that removing the green center of each garlic clove reduces indigestion issues for many people.
I have one more Turkish recipe to come this week, a simple dessert that is timely for our upcoming Fall holidays. Stay tuned — more on that tomorrow!