In February 2015, I wrote a blog post about sunday family lunches around the big wooden table in my parents’ place. I wrote about some memories and many dishes in that blog post. But there is one dish that I did not mention in that article, and it is “Circassian chicken”.
I was a very picky and probably very annoying kid. I would not eat some of the most delicious food made at home because of how they looked or simply because, well, because I was annoying! This is one of those dishes. For years I did not eat it and I now realise that I was plain stupid. And you know what? My mother does a fantastic version of this. I can’t believe that I missed all those countless opportunities to eat her version.
Circassian chicken is a dish that comes from Circassian cuisine. I briefly explained about my Circassian roots in another recipe 3 years ago so I will not repeat it again (check the article here). It may belong to an ethnic group within Turkey but all around the country it is known and loved. You do not have to be a Circassian to cook and enjoy this dish, and you certainly do not have to be one to cook an amazing version of it (my mother, for instance is not Circassian!).
This particular version I am writing about today, though, is not entirely the original recipe. It is a rather simplified version of it, but I enjoy it all the same. In the “more” original version than mine, instead of bread in this recipe, you cook corn flour (preferably roasted corn flour) in a similar way that I cook polenta here and mix chicken with that. Some people also use walnut oil specifically but I find it quite heavy so I stick to olive oil.
The origin of this recipe here is from a website I found many years ago. I had made this dish first time when I was going to university in Istanbul, I think it was 2012. I remember that using the food processor I borrowed from my landlady / next door neighbour, I was just making it for dinner with my boyfriend at that time when I received a text message from him that said he was breaking up with me. Yes, on a text message. Well, I cried that night, but then I finished making it anyway. One year later, I fell in love, and I mean really in love, with a man who turned out to be completely unavailable. I made this dish for him on our first – sort of – date. He seemed to be head over heels in love with me too, but that story ended in a majestic fuck up, I mean, it ended so horribly that I do not even want to remember that. So after that, I stopped cooking it for any potential or actual boyfriend!!
However, many years later, in 2013, when my friend Veera wanted to interview me for the food section of Helsingin Sanomat and asked me to give a recipe, it was the first and only one I thought! In July 2013 the recipe and the interview was published in Helsingin Sanomat (you can still read the online version here – in Finnish). I had just started blogging then and I honestly did not think that food would be such a big part of my life. Three years later, I own a food related company and I do this full time.
Well well, I hope you like this recipe and remember, this combination with polenta is just one combination and you do not have to eat the chicken dish with polenta only. You can eat it just by itself or combine it with something else you like. Enjoy!
Difficulty: ★☆☆ (Easy)
Printable PDF-recipe (no photos)
500 gr. chicken breast (or another part of chicken you like) (for organic chicken, check this brand)
1 lt. water
4 slices of bread, around 90 gr (I used whole wheat toast bread, you can use white bread too. But don’t use rye bread or bread that has seeds in it.)
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups / 3 dl + 4 tbsp walnuts, coarsely crushed
salt, to taste
To serve (on top of chicken) – optional:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red pepper
4 cups / 4.8 dl water (you can use some of the water left from boiling chicken, explained below)
1 cup / 2.4 dl polenta (For instance you can find it in Ruohonjuuri or Ekolo in Hakaniemi)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1. In a medium pot, put chicken and 1 lt. water and cook.
2. When the chicken is fully cooked, take chicken out and cool it down, keep the water.
3. Prepare the sauce, while chicken is cooling. Put 2 cups of the water from boiling chicken in a food processor. Add bread (break it down into smaller pieces), garlic cloves, olive oil and walnuts and process until the ingredients are well combined. It is not going to be a smooth sauce, it will be thick and it will have a texture.
4. Add salt according to your taste, process with salt just a little and the sauce is done!
5. When chicken is cooled, shred it into smaller pieces as seen in the picture.
6. Add the sauce and mix it well. The chicken is ready! We will later make a mini sauce for serving, but it is explained below.
7. Now comes polenta. You can make Circassian chicken a bit earlier than service, but polenta is better cooked right before serving because it thickens up rather easily and it is not so nice after a couple of hours (at least, for my taste..). So, in a medium pan, put 4 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. I used the remaining water from boiling the chicken and added more water to make 4 cups. You can do the same or you can use plain water only. Bring the salted water to a boil on medium high heat.
8. When the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium, add polenta while continuously whisking.
9. When it starts to thicken, use a wooden spoon to stir about one more minute.
10. Put the heat down to lowest, cover the pan with a lid and cook the polenta for about 20-25 minute, until it is smooth. Stir it with wooden spoon every 5 minutes (I learned this technique of cooking polenta from Chef John of Food Wishes).
11. When polenta is cooked, add butter and stir a bit, letting the butter melt into it. When all butter melts, take the pan from the heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then serve. You can put polenta and chicken side by side or chicken on top of polenta as I did.
12. For the final touch, completely optional (but I do recommend you do it), put 3 tbsp olive oil in a mini sauce pan and warm it on medium heat for about a minute. Add red peppers (you can add less than 2 tsp if you want it less spicy). Cook the pepper for a while with oil, stirring all the time. Cook as much as you want, but do not burn it. Spread on chicken dish – either on each served plate in portions or on the main serving dish the whole thing. Enjoy!
Thanks for posting this recipe. Years ago I read Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. The book is set in Cairo, and one of the characters, who is of Circassian origin, makes a Circassian chicken dish for her new in-laws. Mahfouz does not go into any detail about what the dish is like, and I have always been curious about it. It I reread the book, I am going to imagine Zaynab making this dish.
Wow, i didnt know about this. Thank you for sharing this info!
Hi, very intersting. We have some kind of almost same dish. We use instead of polenta Burgul. Could you tell where did you get the reciepe?
Hi! This is a family recipe.
Hi Asli! It’s amazing how you can find similar recipes around the world. I’m from Peru and we have a dish called “Ají de Gallina” (Chicken in Spicy Chili Sauce). I know your dish doesn’t have chili in it, but both recipes start the similar way! And we serve it with rice and boiled potatoes. In case you are interested, here is a recipe (https://www.piscotrail.com/2012/06/03/recipes/aji-de-gallina/). Also, my grandparents on my father’s side were Turkish! ;)
Wow that is really interesting. And I love seeing similarities in food cultures from countries physically far far from each other. 🤗