A Turkish meal is usually cooked by a weathered and wise old grandma deep in the Anatolian heartland who couldn’t write down the recipe for Jacques Pepin himself. She knows what she’s doing and would fight to the death over one pinch of salt or two. For the culinary tourist such as yours truly, I’ll have to relate these recipes as best I observed it cooked in front of me. Like much in Turkey, they’re fairly straightforward, just not very exact.
Çerkes Tavuğu, or chicken Circassia, was the delight and envy of first the Russian and then Ottoman empires. During their respective reigns, this delicacy was taken from its heartland on the southern Black Sea coast, forced into palace kitchens throughout the land, and there rose to great renown. Even today, mention Çerkes Tavuğu to a Turk, especially a man, and a look of awe and longing may steal across his face. The legend lives.
Now, the recipe exists in a diaspora held together by the wisdom of its matriarchal root culture. Wait, wait. That’s actually Circassian women that were taken to the harems, not chicken to the kitchens. (See interesting Wikipedia article about the Ottoman-era high class sex-slave trade.) Circassian chicken was just along for the ride. It’s not necessarily high-class, just damn good Circassian home-cooking. But the parallels are evident. A bona fide Circassian woman recent told me, “We Circassian women know how to make our men happy. Everyone knows this.” Keeping my observations limited to the chicken, more or less my area of expertise here, I can happily say this is true.
1 lb mixed small chicken pieces (wings, legs, thighs, etc)
½ loaf stale bread OR 3-4 cups bread crumbs
2-3 cups crushed walnuts
8 T butter or olive oil
hot pepper flakes (or the like)
large saucepan / stew pot
Put raw chicken pieces in saucepan or stew-pot. Cover with water plus 1 inch but no more. Add salt, pepper, and any desired spices. Boil on medium until chicken is cooked, about 15-20 minutes. When chicken is done, remove from pot and let cool. SAVE THE WATER. When cool, shred the chicken.
While chicken is cooling, make breadcrumbs (if necessary). Add breadcrumbs to hot water, still on medium heat. Cook, stirring intermittently, until sauce is thick and creamy. Optional spices could be cumin, thyme, and/or hot pepper. Or whatever. What does your Turkish grandmother add? When sauce is done, pour liberally into shredded chicken.
Clean saucepan and melt butter. Add salt and hot pepper flakes. Cook until butter turns reddish. Optional addition could be finely chopped parsley or sage.
Place shredded chicken and walnuts onto platter in layers. Pour sauce liberally onto the chicken. Pour butter/oil on top so it drivels down in delicious fatty rivulets.