Chicken in Turkish Walnut Sauce
Circassian chicken is a dish of tender poached chicken served in a creamy walnut sauce and drizzled with chile or olive oil. It is commonly prepared on special occasions in Turkey and is often served at room temperature as a meze with wedges of pita bread. We were intrigued by its rich, nutty flavors and decided to develop our own version. We started with the chicken. Our favorite was boneless, skinless chicken breasts; they were easier to shred without any skin and bones in the way, and they cooked more quickly than bone-in, skin-on chicken. Looking for the right cooking method, we found our answer in a half-sautéing and half-poaching method. We browned the breasts on one side only, turned them, poured in some chicken broth, then gently simmered them until they were done. The broth that remained after cooking came into play not only to facilitate pureeing but also to add depth and chicken-y flavor to the sauce. This dish is mostly about the sauce, and we found that toasted walnuts added a deep nuttiness to it. The simple combination of sautéed onion and garlic, spiced with paprika for complexity and cayenne for a little heat, perfectly complemented the nuts. To give the sauce the right viscosity, we borrowed a traditional Turkish technique of pureeing bread with the other ingredients. A sprinkle of parsley and a bit of extra oil were the perfect simple garnish. This dish is commonly served at room temperature. To serve hot, transfer the sauce and chicken mixture to a large skillet and reheat over medium heat. Serve with fresh warm pitas.