Circassian chicken

Circassian chicken

Lisa Cohen and William Meppem

The origins of this slightly strange dish, one of the masterpieces of Ottoman cuisine, are unclear. Did the name come about as a kind of homage to the fair-complexioned Circassian lovelies that were brought from their homeland north-west of the Caucasus Mountains to the palace harem as concubines and wives to the sultans? Or is it because this dish uses fresh coriander, which is otherwise virtually unheard of in Turkish cooking but prevalent in the food of Circassia? Whatever the truth of the matter, for Westerners the best way to think of this dish is as a sort of pâté or spread to serve as a starter or as part of a mezze selection. Serve it with hot buttered Turkish bread, triangles of toasted flat bread or lavosh crackers and accompany with pickled cucumbers with fennel.


Quantity Ingredient
60ml walnut oil
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
120g thick natural yoghurt, strained
3/4 cup coriander leaves, shredded

Poached chicken

Quantity Ingredient
1 large free-range chicken breast on the bone
1 small onion, cut into quarters
1 stick celery
1 sprig thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 red bullet chilli, split lengthwise

Walnut sauce

Quantity Ingredient
30g unsalted butter
1 purple onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
2 slices stale sourdough bread, crusts removed
chicken stock, (reserved from the poached chicken)
150g walnuts
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
squeeze lemon juice


  1. To strain the yoghurt, spoon it into a clean muslin or cheesecloth square or tea towel. Tie the four corners together and suspend the bundle from a wooden spoon over a deep bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain. (You can use the strained yoghurt in other savoury or sweet recipes, and flavour accordingly. It it best made in 1 kg batches.)
  2. To poach the chicken, put the bird and all the aromatics into a large, heavy-based saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skimming away any fat and impurities that rise to the surface, then lower the heat immediately. Simmer very gently, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken in the stock for 20 minutes.
  3. Pull the chicken meat off the bone and shred it as finely as you can. Reserve for later. Strain the stock and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the walnut oil and paprika in a small saucepan until just warm. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
  5. To make the walnut sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan. Add the onion, garlic and both paprikas and sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, until the onion is very soft.
  6. Soak the bread in a little of the reserved chicken poaching stock. Squeeze it to remove as much moisture as possible and set aside.
  7. Pulse the walnuts to fine crumbs in a food processor. Add the onion mixture and pulse to a smooth purée. Crumble in the bread, then add the salt, pepper and lemon juice and blend. With the motor running, trickle in enough of the reserved poaching stock to produce a mayonnaise consistency.
  8. Tip the walnut sauce into a large bowl. Add the shredded chicken, strained yoghurt and coriander and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  9. To serve, place scoops of the pâté onto each of four serving plates. Use the back of a teaspoon to make an indentation in the surface and drizzle in a little paprika oil.
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