How to make the perfect chicken shawarma – recipe | Chicken

shawarmaan Arabic word thought to come from Turkish cervirmekmeaning to rotate or spit roast is the Levantine cousin of the Greek Gyros and the Turkish doner: skewers of sliced ​​or minced meat, turned for a vertical grill and slow cooked in its own delicious fat until sliced ​​to your plate. It’s not surprising that such a clever idea is so widespread, but each version has its own distinctive character, and the shawarma, found from Egypt to Iraq, is very different from the herby Gyros or the more mildly spiced onion döner – and different in each country where it is popular. However, what binds them all is the difficulty of recreating this much-loved street food at home, if you don’t live near professionals and, inexplicably, also lack a meter-long rotating skewer for a four-burner gas grill in your own kitchen. Fortunately, I have found that it is indeed possible to get great results without investing in either one.

The chicken

Chicken breast version: Joudie Kalla's shawarma.
The brisket is the tastiest: Joudie Kalla’s shawarma. Miniatures of Felcity.

Although shawarma is also made from lamb, beef, and turkey, I stuck with chicken, as there seemed to be plenty of opportunity to explore that on its own, although much the same technique could be adapted for other meats. Most recipes call for chicken thigh, with only Joudi Kalla (who writes in her book Baladi, “who doesn’t love shawarma? It’s a staple of Palestine…I love it – as long as it’s done right”) using breast instead. My testers and I all agree that as soft as it is, it’s also a little dry feels compared to the thigh; that said, the oily chicken skin in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe on the Ottolenghi website doesn’t have many fans here either. While we love crispy chicken skin, it stays a little chewy here, and the thighs seem to have enough fat to baste them during the relatively short cooking time.

The herbs and marinade

Yasmin Khan’s book Zaitoun and The Israeli Soul of Michael Solomonov are responsible for the two simplest marinades I find: the former uses only (!) lemon juice and zest, garlic, turmeric, allspice, cumin, olive oil and pepper, while the latter eschews the lemon and garlic, but adds cardamom and coriander in instead of pimento. Ottolenghi’s team adds fresh ginger and coriander, paprika, sumac and the North African spice blend ras el hanout, which generally contains Kalla’s ginger, cinnamon and sometimes cloves, but not her red onion. Like Obi and Salma of the YouTube Channel Middle EatsKalla also calls for garlic powder – in addition to most of the spices mentioned above, they also dive into onion powder, smoked paprika, baharat, ground ginger, bay leaves, and nutmeg. Nigella Lawson brings bay leaf and nutmeg to the party, and adds some chili flakes of his own.

Pack the chicken in a tin and roast: Nigella Lawson's shawarma.
Pack the chicken in a tin: Nigella Lawson’s shawarma.

In short, there are many options in the seasoning department before we even cover the choice of acid, both to flavor the meat and to make it more tender. In addition to lemon juice, recipes use vinegar, sometimes in amounts: Kalla adds both white and red wine versions), while Obi and Salma, such as Sabrina Ghayourmarinate their meat in yogurt and also add tomato paste.

I can’t deny that all of the above is tasty, but we prefer the less aggressively spicy examples, although we miss the sour element in the ones that omit it altogether. Lemon seems like a softer option than vinegar, and garlic feels like a must, but not too much as there’s garlic in the sauce too, and even the firmer meaty chicken thigh is easily overwhelmed. For the same reason, I’ve kept the spices relatively simple: the canonical cumin, coriander, turmeric, and pepper, plus some sweet spices, because I love them, and Obi and Salma’s smoked paprika for a touch of fire reminiscent of charcoal grilling.

If the list of ingredients puts you off, and you don’t have them all on hand, rest assured that even the simplest versions I tried were extremely good – either Khan or Solomonov’s will make you very happy.


Seasoning is of course a matter of personal preference; more important is how you cook the chicken. Everyone except Lawson cuts their chicken into thin strips – Kalla and Khan for marinating, Solomonov, Obi and Salma after but before cooking, and Ottolenghi and Tamimi after cooking. I prefer the middle approach, as marinated strips get so much flavor that the chicken itself is lost, while cooking whole thighs means missing some of the crispy edges you get from exposing more of the meat surface to the heat. set.

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

You can get delicious results by packing the chicken in a roasting pan, as Lawson does, inspired, she says, by Sam Sifton’s recipe for the New York Times, or by roasting it, like Kalla, or cooking it in a griddle pan, like Khan. You can mix it up by grilling the meat and finishing it in the oven, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi do, or by roasting it in a hot oven (“or airfryer, until the fat has fallen off the skin and it’s crispy”), then cut and bake with more spices like Paul, founder of the I am doner chain, recommends. But for the best results, I think you have to put in a little more effort.

Solomonov poachs the marinated meat, wrapped tightly in cling film, cools it, cuts it into thin slices and deep-fries it until just charred at the edges, keeping it both tender and tasty. My favorite method, though, and not just because it’s less work, comes from Obi and Salma. As Obi says, “It’s hard to get the same texture and flavor…when your meat is in direct contact with the pan,” so their technique wraps it on regular skewers, as tightly as possible to keep it juicy, and lays then put it under the grill, “for direct heat but without any real contact with the surface, to get a more authentic taste and texture”. Not only is this a one-step process, but the results really taste like the real thing. It’s a genius idea, and I highly recommend it.

The accompaniments

Once you’ve got the chicken right, it’s up to you whether you serve it over rice, put it in an airy pita bread, or wrap it in a wafer-thin lavash—and which sauce to go for, if any. Most of the recipes I try include a tahini-based sauce, often with yogurt, unless they’re Israeli (dairy and meat aren’t a popular combination for much of the population), but I’m actually more taken with Obi and Salma’s toumor garlic sauce – “you can’t make the sandwiches without it and using hummus instead is a mortal sin!” – topped with a generous dollop of chili sauce (but you can also use spicy Yemeni zhougas Solomonov, Ottolenghi and Tamimi suggest – their recipes are online).

The perfect shawarma from Felicity.
The perfect shawarma from Felicity.

Side dishes include the cucumber and red onion salsa with dill and sumac, or simple chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion, but I’d suggest looking for some pickled cucumbers, turnips, peppers, or other veggies to top off the dish. ; if you don’t have a local merchant, they are easy to find online or are home made, and for me they complete the dish perfectly.

Perfect chicken shawarma?

Preparation 30 minutes
marinate 3 hours+
Cook 10 minutes
Serves 2, and easy to scaleskilled

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs

For the marinade
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground coriander
2 cardamom pods
seeds removed and ground
¼ tsp cinnamon powder
¼ tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
peeled and crushed

Serving (all optional)
toum or tahini sauce
Zhougo or chili sauce
Pickled vegetables and/or sliced ​​cucumber, tomato and onion
Chopped parsley

Crush the chicken until everything is a fairly even thickness.

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

Felicity Cloake's shawarma.  Roast the herbs.

Whisk in the rest of the marinade ingredients…

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Beat the herbs through the lemon juice and oil.

…then rub the mixture over the chicken and place in a sealed 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 and thread one end of each strip onto a metal skewer. Insert a second skewer through the other end of each strip and push the strips towards the end of the skewers, securing them securely.

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

Heat the grill to medium and find a baking sheet on which you can balance the skewers so that they hang rather than touch the base.

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

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma.  Grill the skewers.

Let the chicken rest in its own juices to cool while you heat any loaves of bread and prepare the garnish, then serve immediately.

Felicity Cloake's Shawarma: Prepare the side dishes.

Chicken Shawarma: Why Is It So Popular Around The World And Which Regional Version Is Your Favorite? What’s your favorite food, and where do you serve the best food you’ve ever eaten?