Chicken shawarma
FoodSimple and delicious

Chicken shawarma

Just marinate the chicken in aromatic spices and olive oil, stack the chicken on the skewer and bake it.

Chicken shawarma (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Chicken shawarma (Photo by Jessica Grann)

This recipe for chicken shawarma is one of my at-home inventions. I couldn’t get what I wanted around town, so I learned how to make it for myself.

I found this incredible stainless-steel shawarma pan for about $20 on Amazon, and it’s one of the best things I’ve bought for my kitchen in a long time. The pan is wide with low, angled sides and has various size skewers to attach to the base. I’ve also been roasting whole chickens and Cornish hens in this pan with beautiful results. This versatile pan has replaced my Bundt pan for my chicken recipe because its sides are much lower so that whole birds brown more evenly.

This recipe is simple. All you have to do is marinate the chicken in aromatic spices and olive oil — preferably overnight — stack the chicken on the skewer and bake it. The results are delicious.

I prefer to use boneless chicken thighs as opposed to boneless breasts because they stay juicy. Unlike real shaved shawarma, my version only gets the seasoning on the outer layer. You could say that’s a downside, but I see it as a good thing. Everyone likes a little something different, from the outer layer with full flavor and crispy edges to the inside which is juicy and plain. If you want every morsel to be coated in flavor, just carve the entire mound of chicken and mix it up together with the sauce that is leftover at the bottom of the pan.

I start the base for the spices with Pereg brand shawarma seasoning, and then I add extra spices in from my pantry to get the taste as I like it. If you prefer, you can double the amount of Pereg spice, add the salt and both peppers, and omit the extra spices listed below. As always if you love a certain spice, add it and experiment until you find what you’re looking for.

I made this to serve in pita with all the special salads and toppings, but the leftovers that I placed over a giant salad were equally satisfying.

Add hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, pickles — you can’t go wrong with this dish. This chicken is spiced but not spicy. If you’re looking for more heat, add a dollop of zhug.

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 rounded tablespoon Pereg brand shawarma spice
1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large whole tomato
1 large onion, peeled and sliced lengthwise

I marinate this in a 9-inch-by-13-inch Pyrex dish with the chicken in a single layer.

Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and spices to the dish and mix well. Add the chicken to the dish and use a fork to dredge both sides of each piece of chicken so that it’s well coated.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours but preferably overnight. Turn the pieces one time while they are marinating.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, set the oven temperature to 375 F. The skewer on the special pan is fairly tall, so you may need to put your oven rack one notch below the center position.

Chicken shawarma (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Stack the chicken piece-by-piece over the skewer. Center the chicken, but alternate the direction every time you add a new piece so that in the end it looks like a nice, rounded mound.

Add one half of the onion to the skewer, flat side down, and press it onto the chicken, then add the whole tomato and the other half of the onion.

Use a spatula or silicone brush to scrape any oil mixture from the marinade over the stacked chicken.
Place the pan in the oven, and pull the pan out and carefully tip it about every half hour to ladle any juice on the bottom back over the shawarma, which will help it turn a beautiful golden color. As this bakes, some of the edges get gently charred, which is what you’re looking for. The tomato and onion cook down and release moisture so that the chicken stays succulent and also creates more of a sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes at 375 F, then reduce the oven temperature and bake for an additional hour and 15 minutes or until a thermometer probe reaches 165 in the very center of the mound. This may seem like a lot of time for chicken thighs, but it’s a very thick piece of meat when you place it all together. You can bake this a bit longer if you like but for no longer than 2½ hours total.

Chicken shawarma (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Wrap it loosely in foil after removing it from the oven, and let it rest for about half an hour. The foil acts like a steam tent and keeps the chicken tender and warm. Place the pan on a large sheet of foil and close the foil upward and around the shawarma.

When you’re ready to serve, carve the chicken off the skewer, turning the pan to carve a new layer as you go.

My kids loved this meal — they felt like we went to a restaurant, but it was even better because it was made at home with love and healthy ingredients. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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