The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is one of my favourite things to do with a kilo of dead sheep. It’s rich and deep and tasty, and a great workaround for not having a rotating vertical spit. With its four hours of cooking time and day of marinating, however, what it is not is especially practical.
Chicken is a fuck of a lot quicker to cook, so here’s a rich, spicy, kebab-style dish that’s lightened out a bit to play nicely with chicken thighs and a more realistic timetable. You still need the long marinade, but the cooking’s much shorter. Oh, and the spices are remixed with an achari-influence to be kind of lighter and hot-sour.
Obviously, at this point, everything that would qualify it as shawarma has been reinterpreted, worked around, modified, or otherwise engineered out, leaving only a vague shell of the concept, an association in mind and palate. It’s the wrap of Theseus, if you will. And for those who quite rightly won’t, it’s a tasty thing to put in pita bread with a load of peppers and green bits.
- Chicken thighs, about 1 kg (at least 1 big one each)
- Fresh coriander, 1 big bunch (say 60 g)
- Red chili, 1 (more for feisty)
- Garlic, 4 cloves
- Root ginger, about 25 g
- Lemon juice, 30 ml
- Lime juice, 30 ml
- Oil, about 100 ml (something neutral like groundnut, and maybe more than 100 ml)
- Black peppercorns, 2 tsp
- Cloves, 3
- Fennel seeds, 2 tsp
- Cumin seeds, 1 tbsp
- Cinnamon, 1/2 stick
- Nigella seeds, 1 tsp
- Coriander seeds, 1 tsp
- Mustard seeds, 1 tsp
- Amchoor, 1 tsp
- Paprika, 1 tsp
(Amchoor is dried, powdered, unripe mangos. It’s tart and zingy, and I was going to say that if you don’t have any you could use tamarind or sumac. But then I realised what that made me sound like)
Bone the chicken thighs, leaving the skin on. Finely chop the coriander, and grate the ginger. Work the garlic and chilli into a fine paste with a pestle and mortar, together with a little salt and oil. Measure out the paprika and amchoor. Put this all to one side.
Separately, measure out the other (whole) spices, and toast them in a hot-ish pan for around a minute, stirring a bit, until they release their aroma. Add the paprika and amchoor for a few seconds at the end. Transfer everything to a pestle and mortar or spice grinder, and work it down to a rough grind.
Make up the marinade by thoroughly mixing everything except the chicken. Then rub it all over the chicken, ensuring a good coating, and put the mix in the fridge for what recipe books that like to lie to you will call “a few hours, or preferably overnight”. This very roughly means: “not less than 8 hours, ideally 24, and frankly 48 won’t hurt”.
I’ve made the lamb version with 6 hours marinating time. It works ok, but not great. The longer the better.
When you’re ready to cook, heat the oven to about 150c, and put the chicken in, skin side up. Cook for around 30 minutes, then baste it in the run off juices. If it looks a bit dry, add some water. Cover it in foil, and put it back in the oven for another 30-40 minutes, basting again half way. To be honest, it’ll probably be quite moist and you may be able to lose the foil for the last ten minutes or so if you want to crisp the skin a bit more. The main thing is not to let the spices burn.
Lift the chicken pieces out, and thinly slice them to serve in pita bread or wraps with a whole load of dirty kebab sides.
- Roasted peppers and red onion
- Some kind of tahini dressing, probably over spinach, because fuck yeah spinach
- Cucumber and tomato, probably with some harissa
- Just lettuce, if you hate yourself
You can even cook strips of red pepper in with the chicken, or rework it as a kind of pot roast over some potatoes. This would actually work ok if you marinated a whole bird like this. I’ll do that as a proper recipe at some point.
There’s a spicy zinginess to it which works really nicely, and hopefully the chicken will have stayed fairly moist. It’ll take quite a bit of chilli, or a sturdy glug of sriracha, or something more mellow like a gentle green pepper hotsauce. I’d probably want to get some tahini near it, though.