Turkish Cerkez Tavugu (Chicken with Walnuts)

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 cloves
4 allspice berries
6 peppercorns
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!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • farida September 24, 2008, 12:58 pm

    Allen, I knew you would love Cerkez Tavugu:) It’s one of my favorites too. For garlic, if somebody doesn’t like its strong taste, you can fry it until aromatic in a little olive oil before adding it to the chicken. The taste will not be the same as with fresh garlic, but should still work. Or, just omit it, like you said. Can’t wait to see your next creation! I am sure it is going to be something delicious! Thanks for mentioning me too:) I didn’t do much:) you are very kind:)

  • kat September 24, 2008, 2:09 pm

    Yum, I can just imagine dipping some good crusty bread into that.

  • Peter G September 24, 2008, 3:26 pm

    I’m with you on this Allen! Love the whole garlic flavour going on here. Quite a healthy dish overall with the poaching the chicken and the addition of the walnuts.

  • Aysegul September 24, 2008, 7:31 pm

    Allen, you got my mother rolling. She loves Cerkez Tavugu, she not in the kitchen preparing! I am not kidding you! Her secret to you next time drizzle walnut oil on top with the paprika!

    Bravo…With regards..Aysegul
    nysdelight.com

  • Manggy September 24, 2008, 7:48 pm

    You’re right, normally I wouldn’t even look twice at pale chicken in a cookbook (don’t understand people who love Hainanese chicken too) but the number of people who swear by this is really intriguing. :)
    YESIKNOWIT’STURKISHNOTGREK

  • Topper September 25, 2008, 4:50 am

    Can this be made ahead and refrigerated, then brought to room temp for serving?

    Looks GREAT!

  • helen September 25, 2008, 7:30 am

    Oh my goodness! I so want to make this. I love the walnut and chicken together – give me bread! I also like your volcano presentation!

  • Cenk September 25, 2008, 8:37 am

    Allen – Cerkez tavugu from scratch is quite impressive. You’ve done a great job. The recipe is authentic and I’m sure it tastes great. Also, I think it’s very challenging to photograph this dish in an appetizing way (the color and texture doesn’t really help), and you’ve done a great job on that, too! Bravo, my friend!

  • Allen September 25, 2008, 9:12 am

    Farida: Frying the garlic first is a great tip — thanks!

    Kat: Thanks!

    Peter G: It is pretty healthy overall, but of course I ate more bread than I should have :-)

    Aysegul: I bet walnut oil drizzled over this would be wonderful. Thank you for sharing your mother’s secret!

    Manggy: Trust me, you’d like this for the garlic content :-) Joe loves Hainanese chicken but I don’t quite get it either.

    Topper: You can certainly make this ahead of time just wait to drizzle with oil until serving. I refrigerated the leftovers and had them the next day without any problem.

    Helen: Make sure to have plenty of bread on hand. Seriously, I think I ate my weight in bread, but I just couldn’t resist dipping it into this.

    Cenk: Thank you for your kind words and for answering my questions along the way!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js September 28, 2008, 12:01 am

    I have really enjoyed your Turkish series: in fact, I must have every post bookmarked. This is probably my favourite because it looks so different.

    Thanks for sharing all of these. When you dream of going through another cuisine, I’ll be glad to go along for the ride.

  • ayse October 7, 2008, 4:23 pm

    Hi there,

    I can also recomment adding a spoon of spicy paprika paste to the chicken, which will give kind of a reddish color plus an extremely attractive smell and a mild spiciness. LUV IT!

    Thanks for bringing it up btw, a small sidedish for tomorrow :)

    Cheers,

  • Aylin October 27, 2008, 8:27 am

    I’m so impressed with you – many Turks wouldn’t even dare try out this recipe. It is very delicious, and definately worth the effort. And you captured it beautifully. It is one of my favorite dishes. I use less garlic, 2 cloves, so you barely notice it. I even serve it to my kids in a sandwich, sort of like a chicken salad sandwich, and they love it like that. I also served it at a party as an appetizer on small toast triangles.
    Thanks for all your hard work. Can’t wait for the next Turkish dish :)

  • Alienor April 4, 2009, 11:14 am

    A foodie friend of mine made it for a cook-in, and it’s been a favourite ever since.

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