Shawarma is a popular Levantine Arab dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit. Originally made with lamb, mutton, or chicken, today’s shawarma may also be turkey, beef, or veal. Thin slices are shaved off the cooked surface as it continuously rotates Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt, the countries of the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and the rest of the Middle East.
This is one of my signature recipes that will be very familiar to all my friends because I make this so often. It’s off the charts for effort vs output: just a handful of everyday spices, garlic, a splash of lemon, and olive oil transforms into the most incredible flavor.
When this chicken is cooking, the smell is incredible. Incredible!!!
This Chicken Shawarma is how I met most of my neighbours when I lived in a townhouse complex. The courtyard was out the front and when I had friends round for a BBQ, random people I had never met before popped their head up over the fence, wanting to know what on earth I was making. They were elated when I handed out samples!
Although the roasting of meat on horizontal spits has an ancient history, the shawarma technique—grilling a vertical stack of meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks—first appeared in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey, in the form of doner kebab. Both the Greek gyros and shawarma are derived from this. Shawarma, in turn, led to the development during the early 20th century of the contemporary Mexican dish tacos al pastor when it was brought there by Lebanese immigrants.
How to make chicken shawarma at home?
Take the boneless, skinless chicken thighs are the best cut for shawarmas. They’re much less expensive than breast meat and also much juicier. More bang for your buck without sacrificing flavor. You just can’t beat that! You can use chicken breast if you like leaner meat. I would even suggest using half breast and half thighs if you can. Let’s go over all of the ingredients.
• olive oil
• freshly squeezed lemon juice
• garlic cloves
• chicken thighs and/or, chicken breast
• cumin powder
• black pepper
• pinch of cinnamon
• sweet paprika
• ground coriander
• black pepper
• crushed red pepper flakes
First things first, you’re going to marinate the chicken. If you like a more tangy flavor, use more lemon juice. Ground cardamom smells so good, and just a little bit goes a very long way. All of the spices are going to add tons and tons of flavor. Make sure that the chicken and onions are fully coated in the marinade and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. For maximum flavor, you could also marinate it overnight for 6 to 8 hours.
Garlic yogurt sauce for Chicken Shawarma
White garlic sauce is amazing. Creamy, tangy, and just the right amount of garlic. Some local takeout shawarma spots go so heavy on the garlic and mayonnaise that it leaves me feeling nauseated after my meal. But we going to make it with lots of yogurts. It really lightens up the mayonnaise and adds such a creamy tang. We going to use whole milk plain yogurt. It’s not Greek yogurt, but if Greek yogurt is what you have, go ahead and use it. I just really like the consistency of plain regular yogurt because it keeps the sauce nice and thin. But like I said, use what you have or use Greek yogurt if you like the sauce thicker.
Your sauce should stay fresh in the refrigerator for a while, so put it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you want to pack yourself a delicious lunch for work or send shawarma with the kids to school, you’ll have your sauce ready to go.
How to cook your shawarma chicken at home
After your chicken has marinated for at least an hour, you can grill or broil it. Grill it over medium-high heat and let it cook about 6 or 7 minutes per side or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165℉.
To use the broiler, set the broiler to the highest temperature, and make sure your oven rack is as close to the heating element as it will go. Put a cooling rack on top of a baking tray and put the chicken on top of the cooling rack. I’ve tried cooking the chicken directly on a baking tray and the chicken does not come out as juicy. All of the juices and fat drip down to the bottom and then you’re left with that delicious juicy chicken. So, use a cooling rack if you have one.
Honestly, you could also cook it on the stovetop if you wanted to make a small batch. I just find that anytime I make chicken shawarma that I like to make a bigger batch. It’s great for taking to work or sending with the kids to school. So if I’m doing it, I’m going to make a big batch. Also, cooking it on the stovetop will create a lot of smoke and you’ll have to wash the pan out many times. That’s why I prefer to do it on the grill or in the oven.
Cook this under the broiler for 16 to 18 minutes, flipping the chicken over about halfway through. The chicken will get nice and golden brown. Let it sit and rest for about 10 minutes, then go ahead and slice it into strips. Put it in a big bowl and combine it with all of those delicious onions that have caramelized and softened.
Now you’re ready to put your chicken shawarma together
You just layer your sauce, salad, and chicken mixture on your pita. For the salad, you can just take any of your favorite salad greens and chop them up with a little bit of carrot, tomatoes, and cucumbers. For busy nights, I keep a ready-made salad that I buy from Costco on hand. My favorite is the Mediterranean crunch chopped salad kit. If you guys have a Costco nearby, it’s great to have this on hand for those busy days that you don’t have time to put together a salad.
If you want your chicken shawarma like you get it in the shops, you can crisp it up before putting it all together. Heat up a cast iron grill to medium-high heat. After you slice the chicken, put it on the cast iron for about 30 seconds on each side until it gets those crispy bits.
Serve your pita with a vegetable side dish, like greek salad or zucchini noodles.
If you’re staying away from carbs, go ahead and put it over a salad or maybe over some cauliflower rice. If you don’t mind the carbs but you don’t want the bread, put it on some rice. Whatever your heart desires.