What makes Turkish food spicy? Most tender chicken legs?

legomom23August 29, 2012

We have a local middle eastern restaurant that makes the best chicken legs. They are spicy and tender and fall off the bone when you eat them. They're very wet too. They are absolutely delicious, but they charge $2 per leg if they cater for you. And I'd love to just make something like them for dinner.

I am trying to get something close. Any ideas on the spice mixture he might use? The chef is from Turkey and they are very spicy. All he will say is he marinates them at least 24 hours and uses his special spice mixture:)

I marinated mine in a yogurt mixture for 24 hours and they do seem to have the crustiness he has, but I used more Indian spices and they weren't nearly as good. I also roasted mine on 475 for an hour. Do you think longer at a lower temperature would be more tender?

Any ideas would be most appreciated!

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My DIL is Turkish which brought me to Istanbul where I had some of the best food I've ever tasted. I'm not a fan of hot spicy food, and that wasn't how I'd characterize the Turkish food I had. It was more complex and flavorful than spicy.

I brought home 3 mixes from the Spice Market, one each for meat, poultry and vegetables. Since they came mixed, I can't tell you the components. But I think the way the food is prepared and cooked has much to do with the distinct flavor as the spices themselves.

I recently borrowed a cookbook from our local library by the same authors as the "5 Minute Artisan Bread" book that was all the rage a couple years back. It was their new pizza and flatbread cookbook. They had a recipe for Turkish Flatbread "canoes" filled with chicken that came as close to anything I've tasted to the ones I had in Turkey. The marinade for the chicken was yogurt based and it had about 8-9 other ingredients, all pretty easily sourced.

I would highly recommend trying their recipe. I made a copy before returning the book but it's at our lake place, so I cannot post it. I didn't end up making the canoe-shaped flatbread, just regular flatbread on the grill. We had it twice this summer and it was a hit with everyone.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 7:33PM
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To get the tenderness my first thought was yogurt, so I guess we got that one right!

In Armenian cooking (which shares much with Turkish foods) a spice mixture called chemen is used a lot - a blend of cumin, red pepper and garlic. Some recipes also call for a good amount of fenugreek. When you mentioned hot and spicy, this was my first guess. Does it sound possible?

Here is one recipe...

Chemen Recipe
From the cookbook �Armenian Cuisine: Preserving Our Heritage�, St. John Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan. Recipe submitted by: Nancy Kazarian and Dolly Matoian

1/2 cup fenugreek (chemen)
1/2 cup paprika
4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne (red pepper)
4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

2 large cloves garlic, crushed
7/8 to 1 cup water

Using amount desired, combine in a large bowl, all ingredients except the garlic and water.

Add the crushed garlic according to your taste. Begin adding water, a little at a time, so that the mixture has the consistency of cake batter.
This mixture can be used in various geragoors (stews) with spinach, lamb, etc., or in Armenian hamburgers, or even in pastry dough for mezza. It can be kept in a plastic bag or bottle in the freezer, to be used as needed. The recipe may be doubled or tripled.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 9:00PM
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My Niece-in-law is Indian (from India, to avoid any confusion!) and you can eat her chicken legs with a teaspoon! So tender and melting. The secret is cooking them in a pressure cooker.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 3:18AM
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Amck, "spicy" is not necessarily "hot". Cinnamon is a spice. Food can be spicy and not hot, just depends on the spices you use. If you omit chilli it's not hot.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:44PM
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Thank you all so much for your suggestions. I will definitely look for that cookbook and try some of these other ideas. Unfortunately, I do not have a pressure cooker.

Thanks again for your help.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 4:48PM
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I've gotten good results with Moroccan chicken in a crockpot. Just don't overcook. I buy Turkish seasonings from Penzeys. And I add aleppo pepper for heat. I think the Turkish seasoning is a mix of oregano, cumin, garlic, red pepper, paprika, sumac, black pepper, salt and cilantro. I also buy a 7 spices seasoning mix from the local ethnic grocery. It doesn't list the ingredients. I think it is similar to ras el harnout, which is Moroccan. I actually love the fact that it is somewhat of a mystery! I make the chicken marinated in yogurt on the grill. It is more chewy and crusty, which is how I like it. It had yogurt and some oil too. Not sure this would translate to a slow cooked application. For that I'd omit the yogurt but still use some kind of acid, like maybe lemons or tomatoes or both.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 5:08PM
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I wanted to come back and thank you for the suggestions!
I ordered the Turkish spices and aleppo pepper from Penzeys and tried that in the crockpot. Very good!

Now I just need to combine the yogurt with the spices and try to roast them again.

I'm getting closer.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 3:25PM
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Aleppo pepper, is very different from cayenne. More depth., not as much burn. I love it., and think it's nicer than cayenne.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 1:12AM
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I picked up a cookbook from Half Price Books called, "Classic Turkish Cooking" by Ghillie Basan. It's a fascinating book that goes into the history of Turkish cuisine, how it was influenced by the various cultures and people that have occupied them or lived there, and how it's changed, yet stayed the same over the years, It talks about the various ingredients they use, and suggests substitutes for some of them that might be difficult to get.

I found out about this book in a round about way, by getting a newsletter from The Splendid Table. One of the chefs that was featured referenced this book, telling how he found it at a used book store. Low and behold, I found it at our used book store. Maybe there's more out there.

Some of the spices listed in the book are Allspice, cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Garlic, Parsley and Kirmizi Biber, which is a red pepper. The author explains, "In essence, kirmizi biber is a red pepper, a type of horn chilli (their spelling) that came originally from the New World, but has grown in Turkey for several centuries and is regarded with pride. In fact, you could say that it is the national spice." She does say that cayenne or paprika can be used as substitutes, but are not the same.

I've made a couple of recipes from this book and enjoyed them both.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:44AM
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Thank you for posting this topic! Last night I marinated and then baked some BS Chicken breasts in a yogurt mixture with many of these spices. I love Penzey's Turkish seasoning, but am intolerant of garlic and it really doesn't agree. Instead I used a mixture of these spices with yogurt and the outcome was delicious!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Compumom, here's a recipe for another Turkish type of seasoning I'm planning on trying, it's called baharat. The recipe came from Bon Appetit.

1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Using pestle or blunt end of wooden spoon, mash all ingredients and 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper in mortar or small bowl 2 to 3 minutes. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

I think you have to mix it with something a little acidy, because the recipe called for a pomegranite sauce on top after cooking the chicken. Frankly I can't be bothered to mess with that fruit even if I could afford it, so I'd probably just squeeze some lemon juice into it or a splash of white wine.

Here is a link that might be useful: Baharat seasoning

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 7:28PM
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Longer and lower will absolutely make them more tender and fall off the bone. You can actually do 475 for 15 or 20 minutes to brown and start cooking, and then turn down to 250 for another hour or two. It's the oven temperature when the chicken approaches done that matters.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 7:50PM
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