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.
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
- 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
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.
Yield: Serves 4-6.