Once you have eaten chicken shawarma, you may as well give up on all the other ways to serve chicken, it’s that good. Why? It’s all about the marinating. Chef Ahmad Salaibi, quoted in Gulf News, said: "The secret of the shawarma is in the marinating." The longer you let the meat rest in the blend of spices, oil, and lemon juice you’ll create, the better it’s going to be.
Chicken shawarma is delicious eaten as is, the meat serving as the centerpiece of your meal. "It pairs well with jasmine rice or Greek salad," says chef, food writer, and registered dietician Kristen Carli. "I [also] I serve it with pita bread, tzatziki, and cucumber tomato salad."
But when this shawarma arguably shines brightest is as the star ingredient in a wrap or sandwich, where the flavors of the marinated chicken merge with and accentuate flavors from the sauces and veggies. Try it with naan or flatbread or, of course, in a sandwich made with pita. And if you want to make a not entirely healthy but completely delicious treat, add French fries to your Chicken Shawarma sandwich.
What is chicken shawarma, anyway?
According to Gulf News, "shawarma’s origin is traced back to Turkey, where it was called ‘çevirme,’ which means turning." The meat used to make shawarma, which can be lamb, beef, turkey, or chicken, is traditionally stacked in a cone shape that is kept slowly rotating with servings sliced off as needed for use in sandwiches, wraps, or on a platter of food.
There’s a reason this fast food has "turned" (if you’ll pardon the pun) from a street food staple of the Middle East to a food that is now enjoyed all over the world: It is delectable.
Gather your ingredients to make this chicken shawarma
For Carli’s take on this classic chicken shawarma, you’ll need a pound and a half of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, four tablespoons of olive oil, divided, the juice from one lemon, one teaspoon of paprika, one teaspoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of red chili flakes, a teaspoon of minced garlic, a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of pepper, half a white onion, diced, one cucumber, diced, a roma tomato, diced, and pita bread, tzatziki dip, and hummus for serving.
If you also want to cook up some rice or prepare a Greek salad, those are both very good ideas here.
Marinate the chicken for your chicken shawarma
In a large freezer bag, add a tablespoon of olive oil, chicken thighs, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, red chili flakes, garlic, salt, and pepper. Squeeze and manipulate and shake the bag to get all areas of the chicken coated in the marinade, then pop the bag in the fridge and leave it there for at least 30 minutes to marinate, flipping it over at least once to ensure even coating.
And in case you were wondering, marinade is the stuff, marinate is the action, so you are marinating the chicken in the marinade you created. Semantics, but delicious ones, at least.
Cook the onion and chicken for your chicken shawarma
Turn on your Instant Pot and put it to the sauté setting, then add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onion. Sauté until the onion turns translucent. And for the record, make sure you timed this to start after the chicken has been marinating for at least 30 minutes.
Once the onion is translucent and fragrant, transfer the chicken to Instant Pot and stir it in with the onion. Close the lid and place the vent to sealing. Now, cook on high pressure for eight minutes, then allow the Instant Pot to naturally release.
And no worries if you don’t have the exact kitchen hardware mentioned in this chicken shawarma recipe: "If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you could roast the chicken in the oven instead," says Carli.
Sear the chicken and prep the veggies for your chicken shawarma
Once it has finished cooking in the Instant Pot, remove the chicken from the cooker and sear it in a large skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Allow it to cook on each side for about two minutes until it gets golden brown and crispy.
"The searing at the end is key to get that nice char on the chicken," says Carli.
While the chicken is getting that char, combine the diced cucumber and tomato in a small bowl and dress the veggies with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and set the prepped vegetables aside.
Assemble your chicken shawarma and enjoy
Now it’s time to assemble the meal by plating the finished chicken thighs, pita bread, tzatziki dip, hummus, and cucumber and tomato salad. You can also start with a bed of rice and lay the other ingredients atop it or assemble a sandwich or a wrap.
If you end up with any extra chicken shawarma left over (which is not likely unless you specifically planned ahead to make enough to have some left over), Carli says the meat "stores in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days and reheats well in the microwave."
Once you have eaten chicken shawarma, you may as well give up on all the other ways to serve chicken, it’s that good. Why? It’s all about the marinating.
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ white onion
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 1 roma tomato, diced
- Juice from one lemon
- Pita bread
- Tzatziki dip
- In a large freezer bag, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, chicken thighs, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, red chili flakes, garlic, salt, and pepper. Zip up and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to marinate.
- Turn on the Instant Pot to the sauté setting. Add a 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the onion. Sauté until translucent.
- After the chicken has been marinating for at least 30 minutes, transfer to Instant Pot with the onion. Close lid and place vent to sealing. Cook on high pressure for 8 minutes. Allow to naturally release.
- In the meantime, combine cucumber and tomato in a small bowl. Dress with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
- Remove chicken from Instant Pot and sear in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Allow to cook on each side for about 2 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
- Assemble meal by plating chicken thighs, pita bread, tzatziki dip, hummus, and cucumber tomato salad.