Previously on this blog, in a posting of 5/8/13, on among other things, the food shawarma (or shwarma):
I first came across shawarma as an Israeli street food sold in shops in American cities. It’s first cousin to kebabs (which are often sold in pita sandwiches), for instance the Turkish döner kebab (discussed here), and the Greek gyro(s) (also often sold in pita sandwiches).
(with photos). Now in Sunday’s (February 1st) New York Times Magazine, a piece “Turkish Delight: Chicken shawarma deluxe, no rotisserie required” by Sam Sifton, with this fine photo by Johnny Miller:
The main part of Sifton’s text (full recipe on the magazine’s site):
“Shawarma,” “doner kebab,” “gyro” — these are words to soothe hunger pangs near drab office buildings, dodgy bars and bus stations in New York and London alike. You can find great versions on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles or on Kreuzberg side streets in Berlin, anywhere people gather to work or drink or wait for hours. People inhale the meat, crisped hard at the edges and sliced, served with pita and salad, drizzles of white sauce and red.
Most people do not make it at home. The reason has to do with the traditional preparation of the meal on a vertical rotisserie. The technique is alluded to in the name of the dish itself. “Shawarma” derives from a Turkish word meaning “turning.” “Doner” is Turkish as well: “turn around.” “Gyro,” Greek: “circle.”
This weekend’s recipe is not for rotisserie meat (though you could easily adapt it to the spit, should you have a Ronco or a setup for your oven or grill). It is for an oven-roasted version of the classic street-side flavor bomb, a shawarma for grown-ups who are neither rushing out for a greasy lunch nor drunk and starving. It is shawarma deluxe.
The traditional shawarma meats are lamb and chicken. You could certainly use lamb, but we start here with chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, set in a marinade of lemon juice and olive oil, with copious amounts of garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and turmeric, plus a whisper of cinnamon. Prepare that one night and cook it the next, or set it up on a weekend morning after a run to the market and cook it a few hours later for dinner. (Those pressed for time could shrink the amount of marination to an hour without diminishing the flavor too much.) The rest of the work is just hunting and gathering, and a close watch on a hot oven.
You’ll want a great deal of stuff to adorn the roasted meat: tahini, perhaps, and some chopped cucumbers and tomatoes; some olives, chopped parsley, feta, fried eggplant, hummus swirled with harissa; and rice or rice pilaf to bulk up the meal. (For a simple pilaf, sauté a small, cubed onion in butter, then add rice and chicken stock, cover and cook as you would a regular batch of rice.)
On the streets of New York, shawarma often comes with white sauce — yogurt cut with mayonnaise and lemon juice, flecked with garlic. You can make red sauce by simmering ketchup with red-pepper flakes and a hit of red-wine vinegar until it goes syrupy and thick, or just use your favorite hot sauce instead.
The key to the meat is using a hot oven, 425 degrees at least, and turning it a couple of times over the course of 30 minutes or so, to mimic the self-basting properties of the rotisserie. The heat should seize the chicken thighs — ragged, perhaps with small bits of skin still attached — and treat them roughly. What you’re looking for is meat that gets a little crisp, brown and curly, like something cooked on a fire high in the Turkish highlands. Go a little longer than you would ordinarily — a chicken thigh is a beast of burden, run through with fat and flavor, and is difficult to overcook.
Then slice the meat thin, against the grain, loading the strips of meat onto a warmed platter, and surround the mound with parsley. Serve with the salads and toppings, and with the best warm pita you can find.