Experiencing The Beauty of Azerbaijani Cuisine
In the summer of 2022, we had the good fortune to spend a wonderful time in Turkey and enjoy not just the Turkish cuisine but also some other amazing cuisines from Central and Southwestern Asia in Istanbul. One that I’ll always remember is a small eatery run by an Azerbaijani family. The Azerbaijani population in Turkey is considered well-integrated into Turkish society, mainly due to cultural and linguistic affinities between the two countries.
Both countries are situated on the crossroads of Asia and Europe and one can see the similarity in cuisines as well. I found the flavors and traditional methods of cooking very close to Middle East. The traditional food was rustic, hearty and served with a generous side of sautéed vegetables. We chose Shah Plov (a traditional rice and fried dough dish), Gutabs (also called Azerbaijani fast food are folded stuffed pies) and Hisə Verilmiş Toyuq which is our today’s recipe for Azerbaijani Smoked Chicken.
Azerbaijani Smoked Chicken, Hisə Verilmiş Toyuq
In the local language Hisə means “soot”, Verilmiş means “given” and Toyuq means “chicken”. The moment we sat down to order, we saw piles of marinated chicken on their open kitchen counter in a large copper utensil. And the lady of the house was casually throwing them on the grill as the orders were coming in. On recommendation of the young boy waiting our table and judging from the tempting aroma, we decided to order one of those Toyuq.
We found most of the restaurant owners and waiters quite friendly in Turkey. Almost always they came over for a little chit chat. Taking advantage of their warmth, I asked the owner permission to get the recipe for the marinade. He conveyed my wish to the lady in the kitchen and she actually laughed. She said, and he translated, that there was really no recipe as such, just a few fresh ingredients. And when she recited the list, it was literally what I could count on the fingers of one hand. I didn’t believe but noted down the ingredients and name of the recipe and decided to try when back home.
Recreating the Azerbaijani Smoked Chicken In Lahore
When we got back home, life happened and I almost forgot about the extensive notes in my cellphone that I take about places, people and foods for my own memory whenever we visit somewhere new. Two weeks back, almost at the end of Spring in Lahore, my husband felt like firing up the grill over the weekend. We wanted to cook something hassle-free and easy that make a satisfying meal. It was only then that I remembered the smoked chicken.
I scrambled through my notes and found the five ingredients recipe. Well, seven actually, if you count the chicken itself and the oil used to brush the grill. The side dish that was served to us was actually so simple that I didn’t need to take notes for that. Just bite sized potatoes, sliced button mushrooms, sliced onions and cherry tomatoes lightly sautéed and seasoned with salt and pepper. But it paired so well with the smoked chicken that we decided to recreate the whole thing. I’m happy to report that our generous host shared the recipe with complete honesty as the chicken tasted every bit as succulent and delicious as the Hisə Verilmiş Toyuq that we had in Istanbul.
Azerbaijani Smoked Chicken, Hisə Verilmiş Toyuq
- 1 kg whole chicken with or without skin
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 head garlic or 8-9 cloves of garlic
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil for brushing over the chicken and grating
- Peel garlic. Add to a mortar. Add half of the salt and all the pepper. Pound with a pestle to get a smooth paste.
- Mix tomato paste, lemon juice and 1 table spoon melted butter or oil in a bowl.
- Add the garlic mix to the tomato paste and blend to make the marinade.
- Butterfly the chicken to reduce cooking time. To butterfly, use kitchen scissors or a very sharp knife and staring from the opening at the tail cut straight up.
- Keeping knife/scissors near the center of the bird, cut to the end. Spin the chicken and cut along the other side.
- Open up the chicken in the butterfly fashion. Break down a few bones to flatten it.
- Rub the remaining salt all over the chicken. Then rub the marinade generously on both sides. If using skinless chicken, make some deep cuts on the thickest parts for even and quicker cooking.
- Set aside the chicken to marinate for an hour. You can also marinate overnight or marinate and freeze to use when required.
- Time to set up the grill. We used our outdoors kettle charcoal grill. But I've also cooked the same recipe in my electric oven and smoked it later with a burning coal method. For cooking in the oven, check the TIPS at the bottom of the post.
- After the coals turn down to a steady ember (red glow, no flame) and the temperature stabilizes, brush the grating with oil or butter.
- Brush the chicken with oil or butter and place the chicken on the grating, skin side down or breast side down if using skinless chicken.
- Leave the chicken on the grill for 15 minutes or till that side is golden brown and looks crisp.
- Turn the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes. or until the juices run clear when poked.
- While the chicken is getting cooked, you can quickly prepare the sautéed vegetables for side.
- For cooking in the oven, preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Bake the marinated chicken for 30 minutes covered with foil. Remove foil, brush the chicken with oil or butter. Bake uncovered another 10 minutes or till gets a lovely golden brown color. To smoke the chicken, place the cooked chicken in a deep dish. Put a burning piece of charcoal in a small cup. Place the cup in the middle of the dish over the chicken. Drizzle a few drops of oil over the coal and immediately seal the dish with a lid. Leave it for a few minutes to absorb the flavor and aroma from the coal.
- To speed up the process, make the marinade ahead of time and store in a jar.
- Marinade the chicken and freeze for a longer time or refrigerate overnight before the event.
- To double the recipe, cook two chickens simultaneously on the grill or in the oven if your appliance is big enough.
- Always bring cold chicken to room temperature, this saves it from over cooking and drying out.
- I doubt if there will be much leftovers – but just in case, this delicious Azerbaijani Smoked Chicken adds great flavor to pastas, salads, wraps and sandwiches.