Ciğer Kebabı: A lamb liver bonanza

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Liver dishes are a thing throughout Turkey and, as mentioned in the şiş kebab entry here, they are part of a very long tradition. But what makes the liver kebab of the southeastern regions so special?

What is Ciğer Kebabı?

As the name suggests, it is made from liver (ciğer) on skewers paired with tail fat and a variety of spices.

Jump to Recipe

The origins

The Turks were a nomadic people, and to some degree they are still to this day. Naturally the flock of animals they were keeping were almost literally their bread and butter. (1) While maybe nowadays the consumption of beef and chicken are more common in Turkey, in the part the Turkic people would mostly consume sheep and goats, as they were the most suitable animal for the nomadic lifestyle.

Aside from the meat that was either consumed directly or cooked in their own fat to be consumed in winter, called kavurma (2) – all the other parts of the animal were eaten as well.

The consumption of meat on skewers can be traced back millennia but written text show that this manner of cooking was referred to as kebab at around 1377 in the writings of Kysaa-I Yusuf. With the detailed accounts from the Topkapı Palace kitchens, we can see that the kebab took the Ottomans by storm in the 15th century with lamb being the main animal of choice.

The titular liver kebab was also mentioned in the first printed Turkish cookbook called “Melceü’t-Tabbahin” (Cook’s Refuge) by Mehmet Kamil in the 19th century.

Each region, province and city have their own takes on the kebab but the Diyarbakır liver type is different as they take their liver from lambs that graze in the steppes in the province with its unique flora, giving it a certain touch. The lamb is also preferred because its liver has less veins and tissue, making it a smooth meat to eat. (3)

While there are no direct traces to when exactly this dish gained traction, one thing is for sure: The people of Diyarbakır love this dish – a lot. News articles during the COVID-19 pandemic said that the province consumed a total of 4 tons of liver – daily. (4) You need to keep in mind that many establishments, especially street food vendors were prohibited or restricted in their sales but the passion for the liver stayed strong, which ultimately lead to the application to the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office. (5)

Etymology

The word ciğer comes from the Persian “cigar” (جگر) though the full word for liver would be “karaciğer”. The word kebab can be traced back to the Akkadian word “kababu”, referring to frying or burning.

 

Ciğer Kebabı: A lamb liver bonanza

With minimal ingredients you can achieve the ultimate taste but a barbeque is required to get the right smoky flavor.
Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 130-150 gram lamb liver
  • Few pieces of tail fat
  • Salt
  • Red pepper
  • Thyme
  • Sumac and more to taste
  • Skewers

Instructions

  • The liver is cleaned without removing the thin membrane and then cut into cubes which are roughly 1.5 cm wide and 2.5 cm long.
  • Cut slices off the tail fat and put one piece of liver, one piece of fat, another piece of liver, another piece of fat followed by two pieces of liver, then fat again and another pair of liver and fat.
  • This (1-1-2-1-1) manner of stacking the liver is the traditional way of preparing it.
  • Each portion should amount to 4 such skewers.
  • As for the cooking, you’ll need to barbecue them on embers and not direct fire.
  • Thanks to the delicate nature of the liver the cooking should be kept to a minimal to avoid drying them out.
  • The addition of seasoning is left to the very end, just before being served.
  • The kebab is served on the skewers to keep the heat of the dish as long as possible.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013
(2) Furkan Demirgül, Çadırdan Saraya Türk Mutfağı in “Uluslararası Türk Dünyası Turizm Araştırmaları Dergisi Cilt:3 No:1”, 2018
(3) Research done by the governate of Diyarbakır, referring to the following sources:
Parlak Filiz, Hevselin Bereketi Diyarbakır Mutfağı, 2002
Öncü Mehmet, Meyir Diyarbakır Yemekleri ve Yemek Kültürü, 2015
Diken Şeyhmus, Diyarbakır Mutfağı, 2009
Özyerli Silva, Amida’nın Sofrası, 2019
(4) https://www.ntv.com.tr/galeri/turkiye/diyarbakirda-pandemiye-ragmen-gunde-4-ton-ciger-tuketiliyor,PRmg3tVbHUCuKPRGk69PJw/SKiMRSo4ZkOdF7nBgWslJQ
(5) https://www.ci.gov.tr/cografi-isaretler/detay/2382
 
Course: Ana Yemek
Cuisine: Turkish
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