Chicken Shawarma

(Aug. 21, 2020) What constitutes creativity?

Confluence of technical skill and mastery of details are the foundation of a cook’s potential success. But for inspiration to flourish, much more needs to be considered.

Expression of personal preference starts the progression of distinction and precious remembrances heightens the senses to the fullest degree.

However, predilection will not ascertain originality.

In actuality, it is the daily culinary journey of exploration that determines perfection. Experience is the true teacher, and there is nothing that can replace this basic concept.

Ingenuity comes in many flavors and the element of surprise is a given. If kabobs tickle one’s taste buds, consider shawarma.

Shawarma is a popular Middle Eastern street food that is quite often eaten on the go.

Commercial grills used by shawarma vendors vertically spit-roast the meat so it can baste in its own juices. When the meat is cooked, it is sliced into thin strips. The actual act of slicing the shawarma in a vertical position is a showstopper and adds to the overall presentation.

Most households do not own a commercial grill with a vertical spit, but that does not mean shawarma is not an option. Modification is always at hand and should be pursued.

You can cook the skewered meat all at once or you can cook the individual pieces separately over a gas or charcoal grill.

If one is going to prepare chicken shawarma, chicken thighs are the preferred choice. Chicken thighs contain more fat than breast meat and yield a moister and tender texture.

It is a common practice to pound out the chicken thighs before skewering them. If one is going to brine the meat, you will want to skip this step.

Brined chicken does not hold up under the pounding process. In other words, the meat will tear and not be skewerable.

The type of spices commonly used for shawarma are cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika.

There are many options when serving chicken shawarma. Rice, toasted pita bread, grilled vegetables, fresh salad, yogurt sauce and tahini sauce are tasty and traditional options.

Shawarma can be served on a plate or as a wrap.

If one opts for yogurt sauce, a small but significant point needs to be addressed.

When you open a container of Greek yogurt, there is a liquid on the top called whey. If you mix this liquid in with the yogurt, you are adding nutrients and smoothing out the consistency of the sauce.

But if you prefer a thicker sauce, either strain this liquid or purchase strained Greek yogurt. Most upscale supermarkets carry strained Greek yogurt.

If one decides to accompany the chicken shawarma with grilled vegetables, I highly recommend the following step.

Bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and squash contain a lot of natural juices. To eliminate this excess liquid, place the cut, grilled vegetables in a mesh strainer.

Place a small plate on top of them and top with something that has substantial weight. Allow to drain for one hour.

Place strained vegetables in a bowl, add kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to distribute all the ingredients and serve immediately.

Grilled chicken shawarma makes for a memorable dish. It is not difficult to make and with a little practice you will master a fantastic dish. Enjoy!

Yogurt Sauce

1 cup strained Greek yogurt

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber, seeded and skin removed

1 teaspoon cumin

few squeezes of fresh lemon juice

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine the yogurt sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Chicken Shawarma

2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs

6 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

1 ½ teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

2 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 teaspoon each onion and garlic powder

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients (except for the chicken) in a medium bowl. Mix well.

2. Coat each piece of chicken with the marinade. Place the chicken and marinade in a large Ziploc bag. Seal the bag and using your hands, make sure each piece is well coated. Refrigerate for 8 hours.

3. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Cook each side until a nice sear is achieved. Remove chicken from the grill and allow to rest for 3 minutes.

Secret Ingredient – Practice. “Practice like you have never won. Play like you have never lost.”

– Michael Jordan

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