Chicken Shawarma Recipe (InstantPot)
From Dearborn to D.C., my quest for the perfect shawarma is a deep passion rooted in Americana as much as apple pie itself. Growing up in Ohio, minutes from the Michigan border, the drive to Dearborn Michigan was less than an hour, a short jaunt that was taken so often it really was a part of our family’s grocery shopping routine.
My hometown mosque was founded in the early 1900s by Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, one of the oldest Islamic centers in America. And every Sunday when religious learning classes were held & families gathered to listen to a sermon, some of the community’s Lebanese grandmothers would gather in the massive industrial kitchen on the first floor and cook and bake endless Lebanese traditional foods, from fatayer, to kibbeh, to the most coveted of all: shawarma.
And so my tastebuds became indulgently spoiled by the rich heritage of five generations of tradition fervently maintained, perfected, and passed down folded into the layers of dough, sauce, and meat. To say that I am a shawarma elitist is an understatement. Shawarma is not a simple sandwich, it is a level of food delicacy that is either done properly or not done well at all, there is no in between. To understand this, one must have had a proper shawarma sandwich to then understand how this is so.
However, finding a shawarma on the level that is worthy of consuming outside of the capital of Arab America (Dearborn Michigan & surrounding areas including my hometown of Toledo) has been a tireless quest, one that has proven itself exhausting and difficult. Instead, I set out to recreate this delicacy within my own home. I had worked as a sous chef for countless hours with the Lebanese grandmother’s in my mosque’s kitchen, and though they had not explicitly taught me the steps, the memory of the recipe lived in the measurements of my eye’s gaze and the touch of my fingertips as I assisted them in the past.
As I set out to recreate this recipe, my hands and eyes took charge, guiding me through the depths of trial and error until I achieved at last the very flavors my soul yearned for, a taste of home. This recipe has become one I take great pride in, as being able to transport the iconic Dearborn shawarma into my own home is no small feat. I present to you a component of American food history, a taste of the pride and joy of the Midwest, my recipe for chicken shawarma.
Chicken Shawarma Recipe
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 diced large onion
2 lb boneless chicken thigh
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c lemon juice
1/2 tsp Shawarma spice mix seasoning
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cardamom
For the easiest process of cooking with little mess, cut chicken thigh into cubes.
Place chicken thigh cubes in a large ziploc bag. Add oil, garlic, lemon juice, and all of the spices into the bag.
Close the ziploc bag and mix well by shaking the bag until all spices are well incorporated. Refrigerate the marinated chicken for at least one hour, best if done over night.
Set InstantPot on to saute mode, add 1/4 cup of oil into pot and diced onions. Cook until they become translucent golden brown. Hit the cancel button to turn off InstantPot.
Add in marinated chicken into the InstantPot. Close lid with vent pointed to sealed. Set Manual for 8 minutes and leave chicken to cook.
Allow the pot to natural release the steam, approximately letting it sit for at least 10 minutes before releasing the vent.
Open lid of InstantPot. Turn on saute mode, stirring the chicken so it does not stick to the bottom of the pot, but allowing most of the liquid to evaporate. Feel free to using a wooden spoon separate the cubes of chicken into shreds. Alternatively, you may chop the chicken on a cutting board into thinner slices
Once liquid has evaporated, chicken shawarma is complete.
Assemble your sandwich by cutting a large pita bread in half around the perimeter so you have two equal sized flat circles. Place some of the chicken in the center of one of the slices of bread, in a long line to span the width of the bread. Add any of your preferred condiments, traditionally it is filled with garlic sauce, sliced pickles, or sometimes can be filled with tahini sauce instead if you don't prefer garlic.
Roll this bread filled with chicken, it may tear but continue to gently roll it. Place this rolled bread on top of the second slice of pita, roll delicately from one side to the next until you have completely rolled the pita into a classic shawarma shape. Place into a Panini press or George Foreman grill for 3-5 minutes to grill the exterior of the bread. Noshejaan!