How to make the perfect chicken shawarma – recipe | Chicken

chawarmaan Arabic word that would come from Turkish cervirmek, meaning to turn or roast on a spit, is the Levantine cousin of Greek gyros and Turkish döner: skewers of sliced ​​or ground meat, turned in front of a vertical grill, and slowly cooked in their delicious fat until tender. be cut into slices. your plate. It’s no surprise that such a clever idea has spread so widely, but each version has its own distinct character, and shawarma, found from Egypt to Iraq, is quite different from gyros. with herbs or a more lightly spiced onion döner – and different again in all the countries where it is popular. What binds them all, however, is the difficulty of recreating this much-loved street food at home, if one does not live near professionals and, inexplicably, also lacks a rotating meter-long skewer long in front of a four-burner gas grill in his own kitchen. Fortunately, I have discovered that it is indeed possible to achieve great results without investing in one or the other.

The chicken

Breast is the best: Joudie Kalla’s shawarma. Thumbnails by Felcity.

Although shawarma is also made from lamb, beef and turkey, I stuck with chicken as it seemed more than enough possibilities to explore with that alone, although the same technique could be adapted for other meats. Most recipes call for chicken leg, only Joudie Kalla (who writes in her book Baladi, “Who doesn’t like shawarma? It’s a staple of Palestine…I love it – so much well done”) uses the breast instead. My testers and I all agree that, as tender as it is, it’s also a bit dry compared to the thigh; That said, the fatty chicken skin from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe on Ottolenghi’s website doesn’t have a lot of fans here either. Although we like the crispy chicken skin, it’s still a little chewy here, and the thighs seem to have enough fat to keep them moist for the relatively short cooking time.

Spices and marinade

Yasmin Khan Zaitoun’s book and Michael Solomonov’s Israeli Soul are responsible for the two simplest marinades I find: the first uses just (!) lemon juice and zest, garlic, turmeric, allspice, cumin, olive oil and pepper, while the second avoids lemon. and garlic, but put cardamom and coriander instead of allspice. The Ottolenghi team add fresh ginger and coriander, paprika, sumac and the North African spice blend ras el hanout, which usually contains ginger, cinnamon and sometimes Kalla cloves, but not his red onion. Like Obi and Salma from YouTube channel Middle Eats, Kalla also calls for garlic powder – in addition to most of the spices listed above, they also contain onion powder, smoked paprika, baharat, ground ginger, bay leaves and nutmeg. Nigella Lawson brings bay leaf and nutmeg to the party and brings her own chili flakes.

Wrap the chicken in a box and roast: Nigella Lawson's shawarma.
Wrap the chicken in a box: Nigella Lawson’s shawarma.

In short, there are many options in the spice department before even addressing the choice of acid both to flavor and to tenderize the meat. In addition to lemon juice, the recipes use vinegar, sometimes in quantity: Kalla adds white wine and red wine versions), while Obi and Salma, like Sabrina Ghayour, marinate their meat in yogurt and also add tomato puree.

I can’t deny that all of the above are flavorful, but we prefer the less aggressively tart examples, even though we miss the sour element in those that omit it altogether. Lemon seems a milder option than vinegar, and garlic is a must, but not too much, since there will also be garlic in the sauce, and even the meatier chicken thigh is easily overwhelmed . For the same reason, I kept the spice relatively simple: the canonical cumin, coriander, turmeric and pepper, plus some mild spices, because I love them, and the smoked paprika from Obi and Salma for a touch of fire reminiscent of a charcoal grill.

If you’re intimidated by the list of ingredients and don’t have them all in the house, rest assured that even the simplest versions I tried were extremely good – Khan or Solomonov will make you very happy.

The kitchen

Spice is, of course, a matter of personal preference; most important is how you cook the chicken. Everyone except Lawson cuts their chicken into thin strips – Kalla and Khan before marinating, Solomonov, Obi and Salma after but before cooking, and Ottolenghi and Tamimi after cooking. I find the middle approach preferable because the marinated strips take on so much flavor that the chicken itself gets lost, while cooking whole thighs means you miss out on some of the crispy edges you get from exposing more of the surface of the heat meat.

All the spices: Ottolenghi's shawarma.
All the spices: Ottolenghi’s shawarma.

You can get delicious results by wrapping the chicken in a roasting pan, like Lawson does, inspired, she says, by Sam Sifton’s recipe for The New York Times, or frying it, like Kalla does, or by cooking it in a frying pan, like Khan. You can mix it up by grilling the meat and finishing it in the oven, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi do, or roasting it in a hot oven (“or air fryer, until the fat has gone down off its skin and crispy”), then slice it and fry it with more seasoning as Paul, founder of the I Am Döner chain recommends. But to get the best results, I think you need to do a little more effort.

Solomonov poaches the marinated meat, tightly wrapped in cling film, then cools it, thinly slices it and fry it briefly until just charred around the edges, leaving it both tender and flavorful. My favorite method, however, and not just because it involves less work, comes from Obi and Salma. As Obi says, “It’s hard to get the same texture and flavor…if your meat is in direct contact with the pan”, so their technique places it on regular skewers, as tightly as possible for the keep it juicy, then put it under the broiler, “for direct heat but without real surface contact, to achieve a more authentic taste and texture”. Not only is it a one-step process, but the results really taste like the real thing. It’s a stroke of genius, and I sincerely recommend it.


Once you’ve got the right chicken, it’s up to you whether to serve it over rice, stuffed in a soft pita, or wrapped in paper-thin lavash — and which sauce you prefer, if any. Most recipes I try include a tahini-based sauce, often with yogurt, unless they’re Israeli (dairy and meat isn’t a popular combination for a lot of people) , but I’m actually more attracted to Obi and Salma. all, or garlic sauce – “you can’t make the sandwiches without it and using hummus instead is a cardinal sin!” – topped with a generous dollop of chili sauce (although you could also use spicy Yemeni zhougas Solomonov, Ottolenghi and Tamimi suggest – their recipes are online).

Felicity's perfect shawarma.
Felicity’s perfect shawarma.

Sides include the latter’s cucumber and red onion salsa with dill and sumac, or simple chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, but I urge you to look for pickled cucumbers, turnips, chilies or other vegetables. to finish the dish; if you don’t have a local dealer, they are easily found online, or made at home, and, for me, they finish the dish perfectly.

Perfect Chicken Shawarma

Preparation 30 minutes
Marinate 3h+
To cook 10 minutes
Serves 2, and easily upscalablepower

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

For the marinade
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon of turmeric
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
2 cardamom pods
deseeded and crushed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
peeled and crushed

Serve (all optional)
Toum or tahini sauce
Zhoug or chili sauce
Pickled vegetables and/or chopped cucumber, tomato and onion
Chopped parsley

Beat the chicken until it has a fairly even thickness.

Put a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the ground spices and toast until fragrant.

Felicity Cloake's shawarma.  Toast the spices.

Add the rest of the marinade ingredients…

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Whisk spices into lemon juice and oil.

…then rub the mixture all over the chicken and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to eight hours.

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Marinate the chicken for at least three hours.

Cut the chicken into thin strips, then thread one end of each strip onto a metal skewer. Put a second skewer through the other end of each strip and push the strips all the way to the end of the skewers, so they are snug.

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Thread the marinated chicken onto the skewers.

Heat the grill to medium heat and find a tray on which you can balance the skewers so that they are hanging rather than touching the base.

Grill for five minutes, then flip and grill for another five minutes – the chicken should be charred and cooked through.

Shawarma by Felicity Cloake.  Grill the skewers.

Let the chicken sit in its own juices to cool a bit while you heat the buns and prepare the sides, then serve immediately.

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Prepare the sides.

Chicken Shawarma: Why is it so popular around the world and which regional version do you prefer? How do you like to eat it and where serves the best you have ever eaten?

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