Egyptian-British cookbook author Claudia Roden’s recipe for classic Çerkez Tavuğu, aka Circassian Chicken, is a Genius Recipe in every way. It’s one of the creamiest, most comforting chicken dishes you’ll ever taste, and its construction is quite simple too. Most importantly, it relies on a very unassuming trick to thicken the sauce—nuts. Adapted slightly from A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden (Vintage Books, 1974). —Genius Recipes
1 hour 15 minutes
large roasting chicken (about 4 pounds)
large onions, quartered
Salt and black pepper
shelled nuts (walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts, or a mixture)
Wash the chicken and put it in a large saucepan. Cover with water and add the quartered onions, celery stalks, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is tender, skimming off scum as it comes to the surface. Drain the chicken, reserving the stock. Cut the bird into serving pieces, removing the skin if you like, and keep warm.
The sauce is traditionally made with walnuts only, but other nuts and breadcrumbs are often added. Pound the nuts till fine in a mortar or grind them in an electric blender. Strain 2 cups reserved stock into a wide, clean pan, and stir in the nuts and optional bread crumbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Low heat is important here or the nuts can burn. Add more stock if it becomes too thick, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mix the oil with paprika until it becomes bright red.
Cook the rice with butter according to the package instructions or your favorite method, using some of the reserved chicken stock.
Arrange the chicken pieces in the center of a large serving dish. Surround them with a ring of cooked rice. Pour the nut sauce over both the chicken and the rice, and decorate with a dribble of red oil.
This dish is often served cold, with salads.
Notes: Nik Sharma, who tipped us off to this recipe, likes to fold the chicken into the sauce so it is all coated well before serving, and he sometimes adds a squirt of fresh lemon juice to cut the richness of the sauce. His shortcut version: Prepare the sauce without the chicken, then use store-bought rotisserie chicken. Just remove and discard the skin, shred the chicken and fold it into the sauce.
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