Chicken Shawarma Recipe

 

Shawarma platter, Maureen Abood

No matter how much you prepare, you can’t anticipate everything. This is true in most facets of life, and it’s been true on the promotional tour for the Rose Water & Orange Blossoms cookbook.

On my part there’s preparation for what to say, what stories to tell, and what to cook if it’s a demo. But my favorite time of any gathering is when people ask questions. So many interesting questions!

At a recent, beautiful Lebanese dinner and book signing in Minneapolis, my brother Tom asked a great one: who are your influences and inspiration?

It’s such a good thing to think on who it is we admire most and how they’ve helped us, knowingly or not, on our path. I hadn’t spent much time in my preparations for my talks anticipating this question, so here I needed to wing it.

Chicken for Shawarma, Maureen Abood

First thought that came to my mind? Mama. That beautiful, graceful, warm, generous woman that is our mom plays an enormous role in my psyche and all that I do. My hands get choked up here writing about it just like my voice did there that night talking about it.

There are many others of course, the big influencers so many of us culinary devotees turn to. I’m talking the Julia Childs and Jacques Pepins, the Ottolenghis and the Dori Greenspans of our bookshelves, blogospheres, and YouTubes. I can’t imagine a life in the kitchen without them and my whole team of masters who I look to so often.

But there are others who I want to note as well, with the utmost, deep-down profound gratitude. And they are: All of you. You. You. And you.

Shawarma Onions, Maureen Abood

You people influence and inspire me in the most remarkable ways. In your comments here on the blog, and in the many many emails you send me, I am the recipient not only of your abiding encouragement and friendship, but also of your stories about your own Lebanese families or friends and the dishes you’re making or want to make (almost always with a desire to remember a time past, a Sitto or a parent or a childhood of love), and especially your tips and techniques and questions.

You’ve taught me to slide a grape leaf into the pickle jar for crispness, to use ice water for smooth hummus, to add more pine nuts than you might think to the spinach fatayar…and on and on.

What fun it is for me to hear what you’d like to see me share here, recipes for how to brine olives (Wow. I might have to spend some research time in California or Lebanon for that one, right?!), or how to make sesame halva (it’s far from obvious to achieve that crumbly texture in a home kitchen). You’ve asked for sfouf cake (can’t wait; it’s coming!) and how in the world to make chicken shawarma taste good at home.

Shawarma sauce, Maureen Abood

The shawarma is a challenge because it’s traditionally layers of meat (and fat…) that are long-roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved off all hot and juicy and beautifully charred. In my experience—which isn’t extensive given that shawarma isn’t typically made at home, and it’s not one we ate growing up—shawarma isn’t served this way too often even in Lebanese restaurants here, where it’s more like lackluster marinated chicken pieces with no char at all.

Shawarma is meant to be fast food, street food. When I asked my brother (another one) what he ate on a recent 24-hour trip to New York City, he said they couldn’t land a good restaurant at a late hour and ended up eating fantastic shawarma from street vendors. You don’t find that just anywhere, Dick said.

One reader here is so into perfecting authentic homemade shawarma that he bought a small commercial spit. He wrote with pride about his tool, sending a photo and asking for a method, not just a recipe. I felt at a loss to help him with this, but it did get me to thinking how we could enjoy shawarma at home without using the spit most of us don’t have on hand.

Chicken Shawarma, Maureen Abood

The results of the shawarma-quest are more than acceptable; they’re downright delectable. Using the qualities of dark meat to keep everything tender while roasting at high temperatures (you have to work hard to overcook dark meat), I’d say this is as close as one could expect to come to the mouthwatering flavor and texture of spit-fired shawarma at home.

But then you all might just up the ante with more of your good ideas for how to make phenomenal shawarma at home. I hug you for that! And as always, I say: Bring it! And, most especially: Thank you! I love you dearly.

Chicken Shawarma Recipe
Serves: 6
My shawarma, which is tenderized and given a boost of flavor with a wonderful marinade, is based on a recipe by Sam Sifton in The New York Times. Go any direction you like with the sauce; mine is a nice balance of cool yogurt and cayenne heat. Serve the shawarma over rice; I love cinnamon-scented vermicelli rice for this. The recipe for the rice is in the Rose Water & Orange Blossoms cookbook….
Ingredients
  • For the shawarma:
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (any fat percentage)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt, chilled
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Olives, cucumbers, pickled turnips, and flatbread or pita bread, for serving
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt, garlic, salt, sumac, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, cover, and marinate for at least one hour and not more than one day.
  2. Heat the oven to 500°F with a rack positioned in the upper third of the oven. Line a sheet pan with parchment or non-stick foil.
  3. Toss the red onion with the chicken in the marinade, then place the chicken and onion evenly on the sheet pan, discarding the marinade. Roast for about 30 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through cooking, until the chicken is nicely crisped around the edges and golden brown. Broil for a few minutes to get the chicken caramelized, if needed.
  4. Immediately slice the chicken into 1/4-inch strips, then lay them over a bed of rice.
  5. Make a quick yogurt sauce by whisking the yogurt with cayenne and salt. Adjust seasonings to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the shawarma, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve the shawarma hot, with the roasted onions, olives, pickles, cucumbers, and bread on the side.

 

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41 Comments

  1. Alicia on October 3, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    I can’t wait to try this Maureen! Yogurt sauce sounds lovely, but can anyone tell me how to make the very garlicky sauce that is sometimes served alongside at restaurants?

    • Maureen Abood on October 3, 2015 at 9:20 AM

      Hi Alicia! You can make classic Lebanese garlic sauce, or toum, from my book as well as a slightly different version here!

  2. Bernadette on October 3, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    Maureen….it was so much fun to meet you…see you cook and listen to your beautiful stories of growing g up in a large lebanese community……continued success with you cookbook..your tour and who knows next??????? The food network in the UP??????? If you ever return to Cook’s of crocus hill in St. Paul I will be there…loved it….Bernadette

    • Maureen Abood on October 4, 2015 at 4:32 PM

      Wonderful! Thank you so much!

  3. Roger Toomey on October 3, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    It’s great to get a recipe that calls for dark chicken meat. It is so much cheaper than breasts. It was on special a while back for 38 cents/pound so I filled the freezer. Yes I’m cheap and proud of it.

    BTW, if you ever get a promotional gig in Kansas City let me know ahead and I’ll try to get off work and drive you around.

  4. Tom | Tall Clover Farm on October 3, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    Maureen, Congratulations on your stunning booking. Some of my favorite childhood moments were spent around my Grandmother’s table, and your recipes bring those moments — savory on all levels — back to life. Thank you.

  5. mike saleh on October 3, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    I can’t wait to try your chicken recipe shawarma,

  6. The Water Is Smiling on October 3, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    I definitely think you need to do some “research” in California for olive brining. Perhaps in Santa Barbara??? 🙂

  7. Anis Salloom on October 3, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    The secret in any Shawarma recipe, be it beef, chicken, or lamb meat, is the spices you use to marinate the meat with. I have tried many store-bought brands of Shawarma Baharat. None of them pleased my appetite.

    A friend of our family who recently visited her family in Lebanon, brought me back half a kilo of authentic Lebanese Shawarma Baharat. It made a huge difference in taste.

    Bite the bullet and order authentic Lebanese Shawarma Baharat. You will not regret it.!.!.!

  8. nancy on October 3, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    would the world come to an end if i made your delicious sounding recipe with chicken breast? i do not eat legs.

    • Maureen Abood on October 4, 2015 at 10:02 PM

      Hi Nancy! The breast meat will be more delicate to handle in getting the char-like edges. I would try cutting it into strips and broiling it swiftly rather than roasting the whole breast. Or, you could roast the breast, then cut into thin slices and saute over high heat briefly to get some of that caramelization. Let me know how it goes!

  9. Miriam Fares on October 3, 2015 at 7:50 PM

    I made this as soon as I read the post. It was lovely and I have a very happy family this evening. Thank you!

  10. Elaine @ foodbod on October 4, 2015 at 1:59 AM

    This is very different from the recipe I use for my shawarma dishes, I definitely try yours 🙂

  11. Asma on October 6, 2015 at 10:55 PM

    This looks so amazing. I know what I’m making tomorrow!

  12. CM on October 9, 2015 at 8:53 PM

    My parents lived in Saudi Arabia while I was growing up and when I was there during summer or Christmas vacations I always looked forward to the weekends. Almost every Thursday we’d go into town and dinner would be shwarmas (three for me, please) from our favorite stand downtown — eaten in the car, still parked on the street, so we could go get more if we needed too. Can’t wait to try your recipe.

  13. Peggy on October 12, 2015 at 12:06 AM

    This recipe was to die for!! Everything about it was wonderful! The chicken was almost like it was charred on a spit. The red onion was fabulous. My mouth is watering now, even though we ate this hours ago. I posted it on Facebook for others to try it. I’ll make this for company, it was that good!

    • Maureen Abood on October 16, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      Wonderful, thank you!

  14. Holly on October 12, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    These look mouth-wateringly delicious! x

  15. Matt on October 20, 2015 at 3:25 PM

    Great article Maureen. I have been able to perfect the shawarma with my spit. The fat melting down the meat gives it a flavor that even roasting or a cast iron skillet can’t beat. But not everyone is crazy as me and buys a spit!

    Your marinade looks great! Can’t wait to use for the next shawarma party.

    If there ever is a signing or gig in Denver we will have to make together! All the best – Matt

    • Maureen Abood on October 24, 2015 at 1:57 PM

      Oh Matt, your shawarma sounds deeeeelectable! You’re my hero!

  16. Melanie on January 4, 2016 at 11:42 PM

    Hi Maureen – I had not heard of Shawarma until last week when I had a fabulous Shawarma plate at a small deli just south of Seattle. I immediately came home and started searching for recipes and found your blog. I tried it out tonight and it was wonderful! I like your blog very much so I will be back to explore more. Thanks so much!

  17. Theresa on January 18, 2016 at 12:55 PM

    Hi Maureen, my babysitter made this for my family last week and it was wonderful. I brought leftovers in to work throughout the week. I had seen Sam Sifton’s recipe, and had sumac in my spice drawer, and here you have it – what a perfect adaptation! Will definitely go into my weekly recipe rotation. Thank you!

    • Maureen Abood on January 21, 2016 at 9:37 PM

      Just fantastic!

  18. Masha on September 22, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    Hi Maureen, I am long time your reader and first time writer 🙂

    Just HAVE to let you know that this shawarma recipe is fantastic, first time we tried it I made it every day for a week 🙂 I also use this marinade for Chicken Tawook using breast and grilling.

    One question I have for you however, when I back the tights at 500 for the first 15 minutes – lots of juices comes out, that in my opinion prevents the crispiness. chicken almost boiling in the juices. To work around I drain all the juices after approximately 10-14 minutes, and then I will get the crispiness. Do you have any better suggestions ? Thanks

    • Maureen Abood on October 13, 2016 at 10:12 AM

      Hi Masha–thanks so much. Delicious chicken! I like your idea with the juices. Mine evaporated in large measure by 30 minutes in, but it’s smart to pour it off if there is too much, to ensure crispiness.

  19. LaraChick on February 12, 2017 at 6:38 PM

    Made this for dinner tonight with leftovers for lunch tmw. Big hit with the family! So yummy thanks for sharing it!!

    • Maureen Abood on February 16, 2017 at 9:15 AM

      Fantastic Lara, thank you!

  20. Inna on February 13, 2017 at 10:23 PM

    I’ve also combined your recipe with Sam Sifton’s as I like both sumac and cumin and it came out great. I used both: chicken breasts and chicken thighs respectively and we liked the latter much better. The thighs came out jucier and more flavorful.

    • Maureen Abood on February 16, 2017 at 9:15 AM

      Ah yes, the thighs are the best! Thank you Inna!

  21. john fyn on October 30, 2017 at 7:07 AM

    I was looking for a great shawarma recipe and I found your blog. It is explained nicely. I’m going to cook it on this weekend.

  22. April on January 14, 2018 at 3:02 PM

    This is my FAVORITE chicken dish. Thank you for sharing it! It’s been a big hit with my family too and is definitely a great intro to your recipes 🙂

    • Maureen Abood on January 15, 2018 at 11:25 AM

      I’m so happy to hear that April! It really is so delicious and healthy!

  23. Debra Daniel on January 7, 2019 at 2:17 AM

    Hey,

    Thank you for shawarma recipe, I really really like the way you explained it, Me and my family like shawarma when we ate it in asian restaurant so i’m going to try this one in upcoming weekend where we set together once in a week so this will be amazing can you please tell me if i use persian saffron in it ? this will be perfect or not give me some suggestion

    Thanks
    Debra

  24. Stacey on May 30, 2019 at 5:07 PM

    Everyone loved this. The yogurt sauce is great. I used a 40 oz. bag of frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joes. Just put the marinade right into the bag in the morning, put in the fridge and cooked that evening. Delicious! And the red onions are perfection.

    • Maureen Abood on May 31, 2019 at 11:52 PM

      This is so great, thank you!

  25. Susan Potenzano on September 15, 2019 at 7:31 PM

    Winner winner chicken dinner! This is a great recipe! At the last minute, before I put the chicken on the pan I realized I didn’t have enough rice so I cut up some potatoes, tossed them in the marinate and layed it all on the pan as instructed. Everything just roasted fabulously.

    • Maureen Abood on September 30, 2019 at 8:27 AM

      That is wonderful–the potatoes sound so good with this because they would soak up the flavor so well, and roast so well too! Thank you Susan!

  26. Michelle on June 1, 2020 at 5:39 PM

    Maureen,
    So glad I chanced upon this recipe, sounds delicious and I want to try it. I have a question about the cinnamon powder. Should I use the regular cinnamon powder we get in the States? Or ground up Cassia Bark as cinnamon that is used in South Asia?
    Thank you.

    • Maureen Abood on June 8, 2020 at 2:09 PM

      I use regular cinnamon powder, standard issue from the grocery store!

  27. Sharon Rossy on April 19, 2022 at 10:39 AM

    Hi Maureen, once again a wonderful recipe. I’m having the family over this weekend for Orthodox Easter. I’ve made the kibbe bil sanieh and warak which are in the freezer. I love this recipe for the chicken, but I also want to use chicken breast as well as we have a lot of family that likes the white meat. Any tweaks or recommendations on the recipe? I figured if I cut the breast in pieces the timing should work?
    Thanks
    Sharon

    • Maureen Abood on April 20, 2022 at 2:09 PM

      Sharon this shawarma is on the table regularly here, we love it so much! Your Orthodox Easter menu sounds SO good, beautiful. You are a major cook! For chicken breast shawarma, pull back on the heat and the cook time so it doesn’t dry out. Use a thermometer to pull it off at 165°F.

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Maureen Abood in the kitchen

I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!

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