Friday, April 25, 2008

Circassian Chicken

I've never been the Caucasus, but if I go, I intend to eat non-stop. So far all the recipes I've had from that region are a fantastic melding of East and West that highlight some of my favorite ingredients. Alex once made this dish, and I remember it taking him all day because he didn't use the food processor. I have one here, so I've been having fun with it. This recipe makes a mild-but-rich-and-flavorful chicken dip that's traditionally served as a mezze, but I served it as a side dish with Zingy Lentil and Bulghur Soup with Mint.

These two recipes go well together because you need chicken broth for both. The chicken dish can be made ahead of time (which I recommend) and would be a great potluck offering. The walnuts make it very rich, so a little goes a long way.

First, make a broth using chicken breasts. You can use other parts but these shred nicely. You can season it how you like, but this is how I do it (PS the onion skin makes the broth yellow). This is best done ahead of time because you want the chicken and broth cool when you use them later.

4 large chicken breasts, bone-in
1/2 large onion, studded with cloves and bay leaf
skin of 1/2 onion
1 carrot, in large pieces
2 stalks celery, in large pieces
a bunch of parsley stems
2 slightly smashed garlic cloves
4-5 allspice berries

Cover the chicken and aromatics with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, skimming foam off the top. Strain the broth and reserve. Allow the chicken to cool and then shred it with your fingers into nice bite-size strips.

Next you get to play with the food processor (FP). You will need:

8 oz. walnuts, lightly toasted
2-3 pieces stale white bread
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp sweet paprika
olive oil
~1.5 c. of your chicken broth

Begin by sauteeing the onions in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the cayenne and paprika. Allow this to roast slightly, but do not burn! Set this aside to cool. Process the white bread until it is fine crumbs and then remove it from the FP. Process the walnuts until they are very finely ground. Add the breadcrumbs back in and then the onion mixture, and pulse until well combined. At this point it will be a coarse, reddish meal.

Pour 1 cup of chicken broth in while blending. It will become much lighter until it's honkie-colored. Add the rest of the broth bit by bit until it's like a thick pancake batter. It will thicken as it sits and you want it to be, a slightly thicker pancake batter? You can see the consistency below. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Before serving, heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil (or ideally, walnut oil), and add a few teaspoons of paprika so that it roasts and infuses the oil. It's very easy to burn, so be careful.

Toss the chicken pieces with half of the dip and then pour the rest over it. Drizzle with the paprika-oil mixture and garnish with parsley. Serve with bread or toasted pitas to scoop it. This stuff is like solid-state rocket fuel, so be warned--it will fill you up for a long time! Makes great leftovers.

Here's the soup that I made with the remaining chicken broth. I think this is one of my favorite soups and if I ever had a restaurant it would definitely be on the menu. I could basically eat a cement mixer full of it, and it's so damn easy and quick. Here's the link AGAIN!

Circassian Chicken is basically the Eurasian version of Massaman Curry, so maybe I'll have to make that soon. It's perfect for this cool weather.

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