Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma is a popular restaurant dish that I never thought I would cook at home.

Like gyros, Chicken Shawarma is usually prepared on a big rotisserie with the meat shaved off in thin slices off for each serving.

I’m thinking there’s no way to pull that one off without a major kitchen renovation…

UNTIL oven roasted Chicken Shawarma comes into the picture. This we can do!

This has an abundance of flavor…sweet, smoky, slightly spicy. It looks and tastes exotic but can easily be made with items from the pantry or regular grocery store.

Here’s what you need:  (with a side of orange cat)

Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, Lemons, Garlic, Red Onion, Parsley (for garnish), Olive Oil, Paprika, Cinnamon, Turmeric, Cumin, Red Pepper Flakes, Salt & Pepper

This chicken is outstanding all on its own. However Chicken Shawarma is traditionally served with a white sauce made from tahini – sesame paste.

This is optional but HIGHLY recommended. It really takes this dish to a whole new level of flavor.

For the white tahini sauce you need:

Plain Yogurt, Lemon, Garlic, Tahini, and Olive Oil (optional depending on how oily your tahini is)

Click here for a Chicken Shawarma Shopping List

Plan Ahead:  The chicken needs to marinate for at least 1 hour (up to 12 hours) for the best flavor.

Garlic. We need lots of garlic. Smash 6 nice big cloves of garlic with the side of your knife to remove the peel and then finely chop.

Build the marinade in a bowl big enough to accommodate your chicken.

Squeeze the juice of 3-4 lemons into the bowl. I used 3 lemons, my friend Cody who also cooked this recipe and sent it to me, used 4.

Depending on the juiciness of your lemons, you can make the call. You want at least 1/4 cup lemon juice.

Add your chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons of cumin, 2 teaspoons of paprika, ½ teaspoon turmeric, and a pinch of cinnamon.

Turmeric is the spice that makes curry powder yellow. You can find it in the spice section of most grocery regular grocery stores.

Add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Pour in ½ cup of olive oil and whisk to combine.

For this recipe you want 2-2½ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. That’s about 8-10 thighs.

This is one cut of meat that I always buy on sale, pre-cut from the store. I’ve tried deboning the chicken thighs myself and it is a huge pain in the butt. Unless you have pristine knife skills, you end up mangling the meat and wasting a lot. I think my time and sanity is worth preserving so I buy it already boneless & skinless.

Add the meat to the marinade and massage it around to coat all sides. Cover and refrigerate 1-12 hours.

My Chicken Shawarma marinated about 4 hours and was incredibly flavorful.

While we’re talking about marinating, it’s good to mention that longer is not always better when it comes to marinating. This is especially true if your marinade is citrus (lemon, lime, etc.) based. Consider that citrus is what they use to “cook” raw fish for dishes like ceviche. If you marinate something in citrus too long (overnight), it will break down the fibers of the meat and create a very mealy texture.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to marinating. Plan ahead but 12 hours is the max.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Pull the marinated chicken out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature.

Cut a red onion into quarters and toss it into the marinade with the chicken. Stir to combine.

Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread the chicken and onions out in a single layer.

Scrape any of the marinade left in the bowl right on top.

Bake at 425° for 30-40 minutes until it is cooked through and slightly browned & crispy on the edges.

While the chicken cooks, make the tahini sauce.

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Like those jars of natural peanut butter, it separates while it sits into oil and solids.

Some tahini is easy to stir back together. Others, like this can, are not so cooperative.

I can usually get the tahini stirred back together by letting the can sit upside down while I’m doing the other preparations. However, this tahini was just not coming together so I got the idea to scrape the entire can right into the mini food processor. I gave it a whirl and VOILA! Smooth and well blended in seconds.

For this sauce, I looked up about 6 different recipes used the parts that I liked. Not sure how authentic that is, but it tasted good.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt) and 1/4 cup tahini. Grate in 1 clove of garlic and squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon.

Whisk it together adding water (at least 1/4 cup) until it is thin enough to drizzle. Taste and season with a little salt & pepper.

On it’s own, this sauce doesn’t taste like much and you might be thinking “Really? I went out and bought tahini for this?”

Just wait until you taste it on the chicken! Then you’ll be happy you have the sauce. Also, you can now use that tahini and make hummus.

Check back in with your chicken. If it is cooked through but not quite crispy, I recommend putting it up under the broiler for 1-2 minutes rather than extending the cooking time.

Traditional chicken shawarma is sliced thin and served on a pita. However, I decided to let the chicken stand alone so I just piled the chicken and onions on a big platter and garnished it with a little fresh chopped parsley.

You can serve this with other Mediterranean themed things like olives, hummus, pita, and feta.

Chopped tomatoes & cucumber salad is a traditional side but I made this amazing Greek Green Bean Salad instead.

(Check back in a couple of days…that Green Bean Salad recipe is up next!)

Chicken Shawarma is exactly what you should make when you are looking to spice things up and get out of a boring old chicken rut.

It looks a little more complicated here with all the steps than it really is. After you’ve made this once, you’ll be able to whip up the marinade in no time, add the chicken, and be on your way.

Shawarma, baby! (Said in your best Austin Powers accent, please.)

Here’s the recipe – Adapted from The New York Times

Chicken Shawarma


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4 Responses to “Chicken Shawarma”

  1. meredith@whynotpottery says:

    I want this.

  2. Bendersmom says:

    I made this tonight and it turned out great. I used chicken breasts instead of thighs. Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe.

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