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.