All posts by ron

Faux Chicken Shawarma

True Shawarma is almost impossible to do at home. How many of us have a vertical spit? While I’d love to have a big chunk of gyro meat spinning in my house all day, it might be too attractive to the cats. And give me a heart attack. Instead, we can try and re-create the flavor and texture of Shawarma, using our grill and stove.

First, you need the marinate:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced (through a press is fine)
  • 2 t ground black pepper
  • 2 t curry powder (I prefer the Ship brand)
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 t turmeric powder (important for color)
  • 1/2 t cumin powder
  • 1/2 t coriander powder
  • 1/2 t allspice powder

The key stuff is all the way down to the turmeric. You can leave out cumin, coriander, and allspice if you don’t have them. Not a big deal.

In a glass container (or a plastic one you don’t mind staining) combine the marinate well.

Take a mutant chicken breast (one of those 1 to 2 pounders) and cut it into thick slices. You should get 4 or 5 big slices out of it. Think really big chicken fingers. If you have smaller chunks left over, just put them on wooden skewers.  What you want is about a pound to two of chicken, in big chunks (on skewers) or slices (fingers).

Put the chicken in the marinate and make sure everything is well coated. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. Longer is better.

Once the chicken has marinated for a good long time, you have two choices: Cook it in the oven or the grill.

If the grill, get your grill hot and cook about 10 minutes, turning every couple of minutes. You want them browning, but not over cooked (you’ll do the final cooking step off the grill). Be careful: There is oil in the marinate, which means that this is prone to flare ups. If the grill starts to flare, remove the chicken, let the grill calm down, then continue cooking. Don’t cook on a flared up grill! Your chicken will taste like a grease fire.

If the oven, preheat to about 400. Put chicken on a baking sheet (spray with pan spray to prevent sticking). Cook for 10 minutes, flip all chicken pieces, and cook for another 10 minutes. Total cooking time in oven: 20 minutes. I’ve not tried this technique, but give it a whirl (see this Shawarma site for photos).

At this point, your chicken is mostly cooked. You can do all this ahead of time and put the chicken in the fridge for another day. Or make a lot, and freeze some of it.

The final step is making the Shawarma crispy and nicely browned. This is super easy. First, take your giant grilled/baked chicken fingers and cut them into small bite sized pieces. Next, take a fry pan, put in about 1 T of olive oil and get it nice and hot. Dump in the chicken and cook until the pieces are well browned around the edges. This might take 5 to 10 minutes. And you’re done!

Serve this with rice pilaf and some warmed up naan. I like Stonefire brand Naan — as close to restaurant as I’ve found (and better than most restaurants). It’s expensive, but one package will serve 2 hungry people or 4 people with a fistfight.

Thinking Outside The Taco

I love Tex-Mex food, with burritos and tacos being my favorite stand by. And re-fried beans. And rice (so hard to find good rice). And the sauces. And the different fillings. If there was one type of food I could eat forever it’s “Mexican” — probably followed by “Chinese”. Two huge cultures with a huge variety of foods. But let’s focus on the plain-old taco.

I have quick chicken, good ground beef, skirt steak fajitas, and flat iron super-beef flavor. One of my comfort fillings is ground beef with pintos mashed in. I am getting myself very hungry. But sometimes I want something different. The Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Cuisine at Home has two good ones.

The first, which is excellent, is Mu Shu Tofu. A hoisin based sauce, with stir fried eggs, tofu, scallions, carrots, bell pepper, and napa cabbage. Now, you are supposed to serve it in mandarin pancakes, which I’ll try sometime, but I found a quicker solution: The Guerrero Fresqui-Ricas uncooked flour tortillas. They are a good thickness and save a LOT of prep time.  These Chinese Tofu Tacos are fantastic. SO flavorful — and the pressed and stir fried tofu has excellent texture.

How to get your tofu to not suck in a stir fry: First, you need the right texture. Get Extra Firm. Second, you need to press it. All this means is wrapping the tofu in paper towels and put a cutting board/plate over the tofu and let sit. Replace the paper towels 2-3 times, giving a total “press” time of at least 1/2 hour. This gets all the excess water out of the tofu. The paper towels should be wet after pressing — but don’t toss them, just let them dry and re-use to clean up your counters. You’re trying to get that water out of the tofu without crushing it. Once pressed, cut into 1/2″ chunks. Stir fry, on their own, in batches with 1 t of oil. Don’t push them around much — let the sides get well browned and crispy. Then add them toward the end of the recipe — like when you add the sauce at the end of a stir fry. You will never know that you are eating tofu.

The second is the BLT+Chicken Burritos. Fry up some bacon, saute some chicken breasts cut into strips. Then, combine romaine, tomato (sun dried work GREAT), cucumber, ranch dressing + chipotle mix, and reserved bacon bits and toss. Make a burrito with the lettuce mixture, put in some chicken, and roll up. This all takes no more than a half hour, so is great for the week nights. I guess you could call this a “wrap” — but it uses a tortilla, damnit, so I’m going to call it a Burrito.

Mu Shu Tofu: MuShuTofu

BLT Burrito with Chicken: BLTBurritos

My Favorite Tortillas

Yes, fresh from a Tortilla Factory, if you have them near you, is probably best. But if you have a well stocked supermarket, I suggest taking a look at the Guerrero brand of Tortillas. Corn, flour, burrito. The usual sizes and types.

But one day I noticed their “Fresca-Rica” line of UNCOOKED flour tortillas. Just heat them up on a Comal or, on my stove, the big griddle in the middle.

Guerrero-Fresca-Ricas (Medium)Now, I was afraid that maybe they’d be like normal flour tortillas. You know, too thick? Fills you up with too much flour. But these are NOT that at all. Nice and thin, almost like a crepe. And all it takes is about 15-20 seconds each side! That’s just as fast as heating individuals on the open flame.

Guerrero_B (Medium) Guerrero_A (Medium)

Fresh tasting, hot right off the griddle, and thin enough to use in other recipes. Like what? How about Mu Shu Tofu!

MuShuTofu (Medium)