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Cerkez Tavugu – Circassian chicken with walnut sauce

Cerkez Tavugu; Circassian chicken with walnut sauce; simply delicious and wholesome

Cerkez Tavugu; Circassian chicken with walnut sauce; simply delicious and wholesome

During the Ottoman reign, the Sultans took a particular liking to women of Circassian origin and many were captured to serve in the harems as concubines and wives. These fair beauties delighted the Sultans and with them came this dish. Originally the dish was made with fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, used liberally in Circassian cuisine and I love it this way. However the palace chefs decided to create their own tamer version. This is a great option for a light lunch, served with a green salad and toasted bread or steamed vegetables. This meze also makes a great sandwich filler!

You can also spice up your left over chicken roast with this walnut sauce, as well as a delicious use for your fleft over bread. No cream, no mayonnaise, just with such a tasty, healthy dressing, you can create a delicious chicken dish.

Signed copies of Ozlem’s Turkish Table book, available to order at this link

Turkish cuisine has such a rich culinary heritage; it is also healthy and Turkish recipes are easy to make – it is a pleasure to share our authentic Turkish recipes here in my blog and also at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland. Signed copies of Ozlem’s Turkish Table are available at this link and it is delivered promptly, worldwide including US and Canada, if you’d like to get a copy.

Afiyet Olsun,


Serves 6-8
Preparation time – 30 minutes Cooking time – 1 hour

1 Whole chicken, trimmed of excess fat OR
225 gr / 8 oz chicken breast and 225 gr/8 oz chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
350 gr/12 oz walnuts, crushed
4 slices of stale bread, crusts removed * (you can use gluten-free bread to make this dish gluten-free)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt
10 ml/ 2 teaspoon Turkish red pepper flakes – if not available, paprika or cayenne pepper
1 small bunch of coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

For the garnish:
30 ml/ 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 ml/1 teaspoon Turkish red pepper flakes/paprika flakes
1 handful shelled walnuts, chopped
Roughly chopped coriander (cilantro)

Combine the chicken leg and breast, the onion and water to almost cover the chicken in a large pan, season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, discard the skin (if whole chicken used), strip the meat from the bones, tear into thin strips and put to one side. Reserve the cooking liquid.

For the walnut dressing, soak the bread in a little of the reserved cooking liquid. Squeeze dry and crumble the bread into a bowl with walnuts, garlic cloves, salt and red pepper flakes. In a food processor blitz these together to form a paste. Add a spoonful at a time of the reserved cooking liquid until a creamy consistency is obtained. Fold in the coriander (cilantro) leaves and season with salt and pepper if needed.

In a bowl, combine the chicken pieces with half the walnut dressing. Pour onto a serving plate and cover with the remaining sauce. You can refrigerate at this stage until required.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil and add the Turkish red pepper flakes, cook gently for about a minute. To serve, sprinkle the dressed chicken with chopped walnuts, sprigs of coriander (cilantro) and a drizzle of the red pepper flakes / paprika infused oil over it.

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22 Responses to Cerkez Tavugu – Circassian chicken with walnut sauce

  1. Anonymous December 13, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    This is a simple, but by no means a simplistic dish. It was Ataturk's favorite, and it is mine as well.

  2. Kristin March 15, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    This is so delicious. I’ve shared it with friends and we all agree that it is the most delicious chicken salad we’ve ever had. The recipe portions are well balanced and the procedure is clearly written. Well done, ma’am.

    • Ozlem Warren March 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      Hi Kristin, thank you so much for stopping by, I am so glad you all enjoyed this chicken salad. I love it too, as the creamy sauce of the chicken stock, garlic, bread crumbs and walnuts are so healthy yet so delicious – one of our favorites!

  3. Cali December 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Hi Ozlem how do most people typically eat this? With bread or topped over a pilaf?

    • Ozlem Warren December 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Cali, this is mostly served as a mezze and enjoyed with slices of pita bread or crackers. Having said that, you can also serve with rice if you like and a green salad aside for a complete meal – we love it, hope you enjoy it too!

    • Ozlem Warren March 25, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Hi Cali, it is basically a mezze and most folks would eat with flat breads or some with crackers in town. Though I’ve seen some eating with some rice and salad aside too, personal choice!

  4. Cevket March 25, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    If I use peanuts instead of walnut, and add cinnamon and cardamom (Daruchini) to make it more close to North Indian taste, what is your opinion?

    • Ozlem Warren March 25, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Hi, that’s an interesting combination, I am sure the flavors would complement well in a different way, it will be sweeter and more fragrant – quite a different taste than our version, but why not. Glad it inspired and I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Deborah Groom January 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm #

    This could be delicious wrapped in a crepe. If you had a guest who doesn’t like cilantro would the wide leaf parsley be a good substitute or would it alter the taste too much? thanks, Deborah

    • Ozlem Warren January 5, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

      Merhaba dear Deborah, yes indeed you can use flat leaf parsley, also widely used these at home too. Cerkez Tavugu would be wonderful wrapped in a crepe, delicious idea, also wonderful over toasted bread too – Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem

  6. Gerald Milner February 11, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

    I have fond memories of Circassian Chicken served at Gatwick Manor 50 years ago under the watchful gaze of the owner, Mr Nevvar Hickmet.

    • Ozlem Warren February 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm #

      How nice, happy memories, I hope you enjoy recreating this lovely recipe here, Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem

  7. Dakine Kamaaina May 11, 2018 at 11:03 am #

    Sounds delicious! Will be trying it this week. Thanks!

    • Ozlem Warren May 12, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

      Many thanks and Afiyet Olsun!

  8. Cevat August 2, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

    Thanks for posting this recipe for one of my favorite dishes (my father was a full-blooded Çerkez Turk). I’m intrigued by the lack of acid in the dressing — I seem to recall versions of the walnut sauce that included vinegar or lemon juice, and I have made it that way successfully in the past. What is your view on this? Does adding an acidifier make the dish less authentic? (I know that the classic walnut sauce for grilled fish does include vinegar.) Also, I have made the dish with roast rather than poached chicken. Again, is that inauthentic?

    • Ozlem Warren August 2, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

      Merhaba Cevat, many thanks for stopping by; I reckon with your Cerkez roots, you know the real, authentic version made in your father’s homeland : ) This is the version I came accross, made at the Topkapi Palaca kitchens – it may have changed/edited as it passed through generations. I haven’t experimented myself using vinegar, but why not if you’d like to give it a go, especially if you like the acidic taste. For me, fresh corriander really compliments the garlicy walnut sauce the best. Originally, it is made with freshly cooked/poached chicken but I think the garlicky walnut sauce is a great way to spicy up the left over roast; the meat maybe a bit drier here though, then poached. I hope this helps, Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem

  9. Douglas Archard January 9, 2024 at 11:23 pm #

    Merhaba, Many thanks for the recipe. I must note that none of the recipes that I’ve seen so far have noted that this was the favorite dish of Turkey’s most important 20th century person, Kemal Ataturk. I drink a glass of raka in his honor. Doug Archard

    • Ozlem Warren January 11, 2024 at 2:54 pm #

      Merhaba, I thank you for your kind note – Ataturk loved mezes indeed, as well as Kuru Fasulye and many others. Best wishes and Afiyet olsun, Ozlem


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