Shawerma sandwiches are a staple fast-food item in Jordan. Shawerma can be made with either chicken or “meat” (mixture of lamb and beef); the former is more common here though. The shawerma is layered onto a long, rotating skewer to roast, and is then shaved off to order into warm loaves of pita bread. French fries are usually added, and if the restaurant is really good, some garlic sauce. I always seem to get a shawerma craving right after midnight, when everything is closed, so my aunt Hala suggested I just make it at home! Here is her method for homemade chicken shawerma. It’s really simple to make, especially if you have cooked leftover chicken and don’t know what to do with it.
Note: If using leftover chicken, shred it and skip directly to step 4.
1 chicken, whole or cut into pieces
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Spices: a tablespoon each of mixed baharat or allspice, black pepper, coriander and a half tablespoon each of ground ginger, cinnamon, yellow curry powder, cardamom, cumin, turmeric
Salt to taste
Small piece of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2 fresh spicy green chili peppers (optional)
Shrak bread or pita bread (use thin, soft pitas to ease rolling up the sandwiches, but the thicker kind can be used too; can also substitute flour tortillas)
5 cloves of crushed garlic
French fries, pickles to add into the sandwiches (optional)
1. Wash the raw chicken thoroughly. We usually rub it with salt and lemon juice (or vinegar), then rinse the chicken with water to make sure it gets really clean. This also gets rid of the zanakhah, or the undesirable smell that chicken often has. Make 2-3 long cuts on each piece of chicken, or all over if using a whole bird.
2. Rub the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, sprinkle with some salt, then rub on three quarters of the mixture of spices. Make sure to get the oil and spices into the long cuts so the flavor penetrates the meat thoroughly.
3. Put the chicken in a roasting pan and roast for about an hour, or until the chicken is cooked. After it cools, pick all the meat off the bones and shred it, or coarsely chop it with a knife. Also roughly chop the chili peppers, including the seeds, if you want the shawerma to be spicy.
4. In a frying pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. When it’s hot, add two cloves of crushed garlic, the shredded chicken, the chopped chili peppers, the chopped fresh ginger, and the rest of the spices. Saute it all thoroughly until the chicken starts to get crispy around the edges. Add some salt if needed.
Your chicken shawerma is done! Mix the remaining crushed garlic with the mayonnaise, then spread some on the pita bread. Stuff the bread with the chicken. Finally, you can put some french fries and pickles in each sandwich if you’d like. I sometimes add lettuce but that is not traditional at all. For best results, press your sandwich in a sandwich press – this can also be done on a hot, greased griddle or nonstick frying pan by pressing the sandwich down with a heavy pan.
I excitedly started typing up the first recipe to put on this blog, only to stop abruptly at the beginning of the ingredients list. Chicken. “But how much chicken, exactly?” would be the question. Well, as much as you want to use. “But how much exactly, for this recipe?” Well, I really don’t know. Because when (most) Arab women cook, they never use specific quantities of ingredients. “Use as much as you need,” “put in enough salt” or “add a bit of turmeric” are the kinds of responses I get when I ask “how much [x] do you put in?” There is usually an assumption of everyone having a certain level of basic cooking knowledge. On the other hand, there is the understanding that each person’s different conceptions of good flavor is what dictates the quantities of the ingredients. That is why the same dish can taste very different from one household to the next. “And in the end, cooking is spirit,” my cousin once told me. “The spirit you put into your cooking is what makes a dish successful, even if it’s as simple as making rice!”
I grew up with that style of cooking being the norm, and so that’s how I cook too. I feel that is how cooking should be; I can’t imagine measuring in “a teaspoon and a half” of vinegar for a salad dressing, for example. My experience is that you just need to go with your instincts and what tastes good :)
So here is my warning: I will try as much as possible to use specific amounts for the ingredients in the recipes I post on this blog, but sometimes I will just have to be a bit vague. When that happens, keep up a good spirit and just use whatever and however much makes the dish taste delicious! And sahtain w 3afyeh..