Circassian Chicken

Please welcome guest author Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook who shares one of his favorite chicken salads with us. ~Elise

Not sure where I first heard of this variant on chicken salad, but I’ve been making it for years. Presumably it originated in the Caucasus Mountains, which is where the Circassians live. I’ve net yet met a Circassian, although I suspect they may be something like an Armenian. Or not. Who knows? What I do know is that there are plenty of recipes for this dish out there, but what ties them all together are walnuts, garlic, paprika and poached chicken or pheasant.

I’ve tended to make this with pheasant, but a good chicken breast is just as good. Try to use an older bird, like a stewing hen or rooster. If none are available, use a roasting chicken of about 3-5 pounds, not the smaller fryers. The reason is because this is a bold salad, and I think young birds lack the flavor to stand up to it.

circassian-chicken-520-b.jpg

This recipe is a great way to get away from typical mayo-based chicken salads, and is wonderful either as a sandwich, or simply served with crusty bread and a pickle or two. Once made, it keeps well in the fridge for at least 3-4 days.

Circassian Chicken Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons olive or walnut oil
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 slices of bread, crusts removed
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • Salt and black pepper
  • The juice of a lemon

Method

1 Bring the chicken stock to a simmer and add the chicken breasts. Add some water if there is not enough liquid to cover the meat. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.

2 Meanwhile, heat the olive or walnut oil in a small pot over low heat and add the paprika. Stir well to combine. Heat until you can smell the aroma of the paprika, then turn off the heat.

3 Tear the bread into chunks and put into a bowl. Ladle out about a cup or two of the chicken broth and pour it over the bread.

4 Set aside ½ cup of walnuts and put in a bowl with the green onions and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.

5 Put the rest of the walnuts into a food processor with the garlic, the cayenne, about a teaspoon of salt, the rest of the parsley and the soaked bread. Buzz to make a thick, relatively chunky paste. If it needs a bit more chicken broth to loosen up, add some a tablespoon at a time. Stir the paprika-oil, then pour it into the food processor and buzz to combine. Add salt to taste.

6 Tear the chicken breasts into shreds. Put it in the bowl with the unchopped walnuts, green onions and parsley. Add the walnut-paprika paste from the food processor to the bowl and stir gently to combine everything thoroughly. Add black pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Links:

Turkish Cerkez Tavugu (Chicken with Walnuts) from Eating Out Loud
Circassian Chicken - Cerkez Tavugu at One Perfect Bite
Circassian chicken is a classic from Seduction Meals

39 Comments

  1. sxydeeny

    I like this recipe.
    I have seen this salad served in deli s and restaurants and had not known the name of the side dish. Thank you for posting the Circassian chicken recipe

  2. Kristopfer

    This looks wonderful! I typically don’t make chicken salad because of my absolute loathing for mayo. Thanks for posting a really interesting alternative. I’ll definitely be making this over the weekend!

  3. Alta

    Just in time! I have been trying to get out of our same-salad-every-day-for-lunch rut, and this is a great idea! Thanks, this looks delicious!

  4. Siri

    This looks yummy! Could you indicate how much the chicken meat you’ve used, weighs? I like to use chicken thighs (I just think they have more flavour), and am wondering how many I’d need for this. Thanks! :)

    I designed this dish specifically to use breasts, as I too prefer the thighs — but use them in other dishes. That’s why you gently poach the breasts, which keeps them moist. If I were to use thighs, I’d use 4-5 of them. ~Hank

  5. Gary in Massena

    Hmmm… I have a couple of yard birds running around that have stopped laying that this would be a fitting ending for.

  6. Brenda in SA

    This chicken salad sounds divine, but are the walnuts roasted or raw?

    Doesn’t matter on the walnuts. If I have time, I toast them lightly, which makes them taste better IMHO. But I’ve done this with raw walnuts and it was still good. ~Hank

  7. moonvirgo

    Any suggestions if we must omit the nuts due to food allergies? Thanks for a great different chicken salad recipe.

    Sorry, but this recipe hinges on walnuts, or at least nuts in general. Maybe there is a nut — like pine nuts — you are not allergic to? You really need that texture and oil from a nut to make this recipe work. ~Hank

  8. Shibi

    This looks delicious! I love “standard” chicken salad but dislike the heavy mayo… I can’t wait to try this recipe. Your recipe includes some of my favorite ingredients: chicken, green onions, walnuts, cayenne, garlic… yum. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Dominique (de vous à moi...)

    Oh thank you for this recipe. I’ve never heard about circassian chicken… I’m curious. It seems very tasty!

  10. Jennifer

    Oh this sounds very good! My husband always enjoys the recipes from Hank Shaw. He’s a hunter/angler/gardener too =)

  11. Slithy Tove

    An entire teaspoon of cayenne? Really? For the amount of chicken specified here, doesn’t that make the dish insanely hot?

    To each his own. I like this dish with some kick, and a teaspoon isn’t all that much because the richness of the walnuts, bread and oil offset it. Start with less if you’d like; you can always add more. ~Hank

  12. Elise

    Yikes! I mistakenly coded this recipe gluten-free when putting the post in the system last night. Too all who caught the error, thank you for bringing this to our attention. The error has been fixed. This recipe is definitely not gluten-free unless you use gluten-free bread and stock.

  13. Sarah

    What a wonderful-looking chicken salad! I wonder if green garlic would do the trick, as we haven’t got any garlic around here yet?

    Yep, I think green garlic would be nice with this. ~Hank

  14. Jeff

    Thanks for this recipe. With paprika, cayenne and garlic it has my favorite ingredients! Really sounds great for summer. I will try this weekend.

  15. Christine

    In one of my all time favorite books from The Cairo Trilogy, by the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, one of the characters serves Circassian Chicken. It sounded very mysterious and delicious in the book. Now I’ll just have to see for myself. Thanks for posting the recipe!

    Wow. I do remember that now! It’s been close to 20 years since I read Sugar Street, Palace Walk, etc. ~Hank

  16. tokyoastrogirl

    This looks like something I would really love. Did you use Hungarian paprika (if so, hot or sweet?) or just regular paprika?

    Thanks!

  17. Wendy

    Well, I have had Circassian chicken, in a Circassian village in Israel. Considering the age of the chicken, it was a pretty ghastly experience. Your recipe looks great, though, and I look forward to trying it. BTW, Circassians are nothing like Armenians.

  18. Jim

    Hank, would it be OK to use Spanish paprika?

    You bet. But if you use smoked paprika, cut it with regular — the smoked stuff is VERy strong. ~Hank

  19. Melisa

    We had this for a light supper last night and it was fantastic! We ate it warm inside a homemade pita. Is it supposed to be warm or cold? My husband doesn’t like cold so I just made it the way he would like it! And, he did like it very much! We didn’t think the 1 tsp of cayenne was too much. It had just the right kick IMHO. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

  20. Chris

    I’m always on the lookout for new chicken salad recipes. This one has great possibilities. I like the idea of the walnut oil and nuts. Makes it a great healthy option.

  21. Kevin

    I enjoyed making this chicken salad, and it got great reviews from my godchildren. And when I explained where the recipe came from (via research on the internet) it gave them, and me, a lesson in geography, history and culture. Interesting stuff…culture and cooking are so intertwined.

  22. Raina

    I have a friend who regularly goes duck hunting and keeps asking for recipes to help him use up all the duck. Would this be one to try substituting the chicken with duck or do you think that would be too oily?

    Well, I too am a duck hunter, but I’ve never thought about using duck for this recipe. It might work — but you’d want to use skinless breasts, as you are correct in thinking that the skin and fat would make it too oily. If you try it, let us know; I’d be interested in hearing how it went. ~Hank

  23. typome

    I made this last night and thought it was delicious! I did reduce the spices a bit but that’s just for me. Truthfully, while I was preparing it, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially with the tear bread into pieces and pour broth over it ;) But it turned out great, thank you for sharing.

  24. Dunja

    Ok. So this looked so good that I felt compelled last night at 9 something PM to put the computer down, march into the kitchen and make this. Luckily the recipe calls for stuff I regularly keep around at my house. The salad was very easy to make, just a few steps really. I didn’t have chicken breast with skin, only skinless boneless breasts and then only three of them (worked anyways, I just took a little less of everything else). I simmered them just the same in low sodium organic chicken broth and soaked two slices of whole grain bread in broth (next time I will leave the crust on, it will get soft anyways and then it gets pureed).

    I added only less than half the amount of cayenne but will add all of it next time as I like things spicy too.
    I also will do the paprika oil a little different next time. I will only heat the oil somewhat, pour it into a bowl and then add the paprika. Paprika is very finicky and hates intense heat, it easily burns, turning bitter. I didn’t let the oil boil at all though and took it off the flame as soon as I had added the paprika.

    So when I put all of this together it took all I had to not constantly lick the bowl. And today I devoured this delicious salad for lunch, dinner and snack. I didn’t get a chance to share but since this recipe will be an absolute keeper, there will be plenty to go around very soon. In fact, I will make it on Friday again to let my friend try the salad I was talking about all day today!

  25. Lisa

    This salad looks and sounds delicious; tagging it to try soon. It reminds me a bit of a tasty dip that I sometimes get at a local deli.

  26. anna

    AMAZING! I made this last night with a rotisserie chix from the store (was feeling lazy) and it was incredible. I woke up and had it for breakfast and lunch.

    I liked using the whole chicken b/c the dark meat is so good.

    Can’t wait to make it again soon. Its been a long time since i was this excited about a new recipe. thanks hank and elise.
    ;o) anna

  27. Carol

    This recipe sounds wonderful! Just wanted to double check about the cooking time for the chicken, though. It says to simmer the chicken breasts ten minutes and then turn off the heat. How long should the chicken be in the pan to make sure that it is adequately cooked? Should the chicken breasts be bone in or boneless? I am a great fan of your site and have been impressed with the results of the recipes that I have made so far. Thanks so much for sharing them!!!

    I leave the chicken — bone in or out is fine — in the stock for 15-20 minutes after I turn off the heat. ~Hank

  28. Ejide TANIK

    I am Turkish, half Circassian my grandmother
    was a Circassian.
    The original recipe calls for :
    1.Only white chicken meat boiled with a whole onion.Discarding the skin you need to pull off very fine threads from the meat. Leave a side.
    2.Walnuts need to be processed untill (very fine like peanut butter)they stick to the bowl.
    3.Add the bread,garlic and some of the stock add also the boiled onion to the walnut puree, process all very well like a cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    4.Mix chicken threads and walnut sauce,then drizzle with walnut oil mixed with red pepper.
    Green onions and parsley is not used in the classic recipe.

    Yes, I know green onions and parsley are not in the classic, but I made this in spring and I decided to put them in. That said, I am pretty happy my recipe is so close to yours – thank you for sharing it! ~Hank

  29. patty

    I saw this recipe months ago when it was originally posted and have been thinking about it ever since. FINALLY made it last night and had to comment on how delicious it was. I only made two small variations: I used roast chicken breast on the bone (as a matter of preference) and chives instead of scallions (as a matter of what was in my fridge). I used suggested porportions above for spices (very unlike me!) and it was great. I would actually add a little more cayenne for my own preference next time, but otherwise would not change anything.

  30. Anny

    Thank you Hank for sharing us the recipe! I made this chicken salad last week, and actually enjoyed it very much. It reminds me of the Pecel sauce (peanut sauce) for Indonesian vegetable salad. I like the chunks of walnut in the chicken salad, since it gives the salad a crunch. Again, thanks for sharing!

  31. Yaso

    thank you for sharing this recipe first and second … im a circassian !!! and i havent heard of this delicous recipe in my entire life well i’m proud if this one originated from our beloved caucasus as Ejide TANIK posted the classic one is a bit different but thank you Hank for adding a wonderful touch to it =)

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