This Chicken Shawarma recipe is going to knock your socks off! Just a handful of every day spices makes an incredible Chicken Shawarma marinade that infuses the chicken with exotic Middle Eastern flavours. The smell when this is cooking is insane!
This is one of my signature recipes that will be very familiar to all my friends because I make this so often. It’s off the charts for effort vs output: just a handful of everyday spices, garlic, a splash of lemon and olive oil transforms into the most incredible flavour.
When this chicken is cooking, the smell is incredible. In fact, it’s how I met most of my neighbours when I lived in a townhouse complex, random people I had never met before popping their head over the fence wanting to know what on earth I was making. They were elated when I handed out samples!
What is Chicken Shawarma, actually??
Shawarma is a popular dish originating from the Middle East. It’s a popular street food that is traditionally made in the form of spiced meats that are stacked on a vertical rotisserie with thin slices shaved off as it rotates. But don’t worry! We can cook our horizontally in a good old pan or on the BBQ!
Shawarma was traditionally made with lamb, mutton and chicken though these days you see it with beef too. It’s commonly served in the form of a wrap, though in some countries you see it served on plates with sides such as seasoned rice or fries, and salads. In this recipe, I’m giving you both options!
Ingredients in Chicken Shawarma
Here’s what you need to make Chicken Shawarma. I’m betting you have most if not all of the spices in your pantry already!
- Chicken – I like to make Shawarma with boneless, skinless thighs as its juicier than breast. But chicken breast and tenderloin both work great.
- Lemon juice – Fresh!
- Olive oil – For a touch of flavour but also to dilute the lemon juice so it doesn’t “cook” the chicken (like we intentionally do with ceviche!).
- Spices – Nothing out of the ordinary here! The only one you might not have in stock is cardamom, though these days its easily found at any grocery store. It has a piney, sort of citrusy flavour and it is a key ingredient that distinguishes the Shawarma marinade from other cuisines, such as Mexican, that regularly uses the other spices used in this recipe. In short, don’t skip it!
- Spice control – The spiciness in the Shawarma marinade comes from the cayenne pepper. It’s not a key element of the flavour so if you don’t want it spicy, either reduce or eliminate it altogether. I promise you won’t feel robbed. Lots of other flavours going on in this dish!
SAUCE OPTIONS FOR SHAWARMA
Shawarma is traditionally served with either a tahini sauce (common in Israel) or a Yogurt Sauce. If you’d like to use a tahini sauce, use the one in this Roasted Broccolini recipe.
For a Lemon Yogurt Sauce, here’s what you need:
How to make Chicken Shawarma
For the best results, it’s best to marinate the chicken overnight. But to be honest, the volume and flavour of the marinade is intense enough that you can get away with a minimum of 3 hours of marinating. Been there, done that plenty of times, and nobody has complained!
- Mix marinade – For convenience, just mix the marinade directly in a ziplock bag. A bag works best because the chicken remains nicely coated in the marinade. If you prefer to use a container, either turn the chicken a few times or increase the marinade by 50%.
- Add chicken into the marinade. Seal the bag, removing excess air, then massage to coat from the outside. Leave to marinade for 12 to 24 hours in the fridge. If you’re pressed for time, even 3 hours will do!
- Yogurt sauce – Make the yogurt sauce simply by mixing the ingredients then set aside for at least 20 minutes to let the flavours meld. This will keep for 3 days in the fridge.
- Cook chicken either on the stove or on the BBQ. It will get a great crust on it from the spices, and you will adore the smell. It’s intoxicating!
- Rest chicken for at least 3 minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the flesh, else they will just run out everywhere when you slice the meat.
- To serve, just pile everything on a platter and let everybody make their own wraps! The chicken, lettuce, tomato slices, onion, yogurt sauce and warmed flatbreads – homemade or store bought. If the chicken is on the larger side, I sometimes slice it. But if they are smaller, I tend to just leave them whole.
How to Serve Chicken Shawarma
There are two main ways to serve Chicken Shawarma.
- Wraps – As Chicken Shawarma wraps (like Gyros and Doner kebabs), with tomato, lettuce, and a simple yoghurt sauce on the side. Other optional extras include: red onion, cheese (query authenticity? But that’s ok!!), hummus, hot sauce / chilli sauce.
- Shawarma plate – With rice and salads on the side. Thought I usually do serve pita bread or another type of flatbread as well, with a big dollop of either Hummus or the Yogurt Sauce in this recipe, just because it’s very on theme. ☺️
Below, the Chicken Shawarma is pictured with Mejadra which is a Middle Eastern lentil rice (seriously so good you can / will want to eat it just by itself!) and a Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad (I skip the spicing of chickpeas otherwise there’s just too much kapow spices going on).
Great food for gatherings
This Chicken Shawarma, along with the Vietnamese Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken, are two of my most frequently made foods when I’m cooking for a crowd because it’s easy to make loads, they are both great “lay it all out and let everyone serve themselves” type foods (I’m a big fan of food like that), and it travels well. I’ve made this multiple times on camping trips (along with the Vietnamese Noodles and Greek Gyros!).
It was also part of a 7 course Arabian Feast menu that I shared way back when I first published this recipe in 2015. I still haven’t gotten around to perking up all the recipes with fresh new photos, but I will one day! I love that menu because so much of it can be prepared ahead, and there’s lots of common ingredients.
Be prepared for the amazing smells when you’re cooking this Chicken Shawarma! – Nagi xx
Watch How To Make It
Chicken Shawarma recipe video! You can almost smell the heady aroma through the screen….almost!!!
Chicken Shawarma (Middle Eastern)
Serve with Yogurt Sauce (provided) or the Tahini sauce in this recipe. Add a simple salad and flatbread laid out on a large platter, then let everyone make their own wraps!
- 1 kg / 2 lb chicken thigh fillets , skinless and boneless (Note 3)
- 1 large garlic clove , minced (or 2 small cloves)
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground cardamon
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (reduce to 1/2 tsp to make it not spicy)
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- Black pepper
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup Greek yoghurt
- 1 clove garlic , crushed
- 1 tsp cumin
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- 4 – 5 flatbreads (Lebanese or pita bread orhomemade soft flatbreads)
- Sliced lettuce (cos or iceberg)
- Tomato slices
- Red onion , finely sliced
- Cheese , shredded (optional)
- Hot sauce of choice (optional)
Marinade chicken – Combine the marinade ingredients in a large ziplock bag. Add the chicken, seal, the massage from the outside with your hands to make sure each piece is coated. Marinate 24 hours (minimum 3 hours).
Yogurt Sauce – Combine the Yogurt Sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix. Cover and put in the fridge until required (it will last for 3 days in the fridge).
Preheat stove or BBQ – Heat a large non-stick skillet with 1 tablespoon over medium high heat, or lightly brush a BBQ hotplate/grills with oil and heat to medium high. (See notes for baking)
Cook chicken – Place chicken in the skillet or on the grill and cook the first side for 4 to 5 minutes until nicely charred. Turn and cook the other side for 3 to 4 minutes (the 2nd side takes less time).
Rest – Remove chicken from the grill and cover loosely with foil. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
Slice chicken and pile onto platter alongside flatbreads, Salad and the Yoghurt Sauce (or dairy free Tahini sauce from this recipe).
To make a wrap, get a piece of flatbread and smear with Yoghurt Sauce. Top with a bit of lettuce and tomato and Chicken Shawarma. Roll up and enjoy!
This also works well made ahead, which I recently did when I made this for 50 people as part of a multi-course meal. I grilled it in the morning and cut it up. Then prior to serving it was just heated up in the microwave. Toss it with the juices pooled at the bottom of the dish and no one will guess it was cooked earlier in the day!
2. Chicken per serving – If using large lebanese bread as pictured (diameter is almost 30cm/1 foot), you need around 300g/10oz of chicken per person (raw) to fully fill them out without tucking the ends in. 200 – 250g/7 – 8oz per person seems to be enough on average, but I always end up providing more!
3. Chicken – I use 6 pieces approx 5oz/150g each.
Chicken breast: I feel strongly that this is best made with thigh because it’s got more fat so you get beautiful caramelisation. But it’s still super tasty made with chicken breast. The best way is to cut them in half horizontally to make 2 thin steaks no thicker than 1 cm/ 2/5″ each. If needed, pound lightly. Marinate per recipe. Then cook on a high heat (not medium high per recipe) for just 2 minutes on each side until golden. They will be juicy and beautiful inside!
4. Suggestions for things to make on the side:
* Mejadra (pictured in post) – Middle Eastern lentil rice
* Chickpea Rice Pilaf– slightly less spiced than Mejadra
* Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad (a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, skip the spicing of chickpeas to keep it fresher)
Also see 7 Course Arabian Feast (summary below recipe) and above recipe card in post for lengthier list of side options.
5. BAKING: Cooking on a BBQ or stove is best to get the caramelisation. Baking doesn’t yield quite the same flavour – but still very good! Bake at 425F/220C for 20 – 25 minutes until a browned.
6. Nutrition for chicken only because flatbreads vary so much in size and calories.Assuming 6 servings.