Back to Lebanon, Shish Tawook can be found in most fast food restaurants. It is usually ordered as a sandwich of grilled chicken rolled in a “pita” bread with some Lebanese Garlic Sauce and some salty pickles, fries and I’ve even had it once with lettuce/mayo. It can also be served in a plate with a side of rice and grilled veggies. In its most basic form, Shish Tawook is just grilled chicken breast, but the secret is in the marination. I’ve had Shish Tawook at home and in restaurants pretty much all my life, and despite the common flavors of garlic and lemon being shared in the Lebanese-style Shish Tawook, spices and flavorings may vary quite a lot.
While putting this recipe together, we experimented with a few different chicken marination and spices, and settled on one that our guests and us loved the most. This recipe was inspired mainly from our family friend Mohammed who used to be a chef in a Lebanese restaurant in Michigan. In addition we share a small secret later in the post that we learned from Laba, another family friend who owned and operated restaurants in Lebanon.
Marinating the Chicken
Marinate the chicken breast chunks for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight in the fridge. The longer they marinate, the juicier and more flavorful they are. Right before grilling, skewer the chicken with preferably metal skewers (to help them cook inside out) but bamboo skewers are also fine.
Grilling the Shish Tawook
I know that we all tend to overcook chicken for fear of contamination, but since we’re grilling smaller chunks, and especially if you’re using metal skewers, chicken cooks much faster that way. And the longer you marinate the chicken the quicker it grills. The recommendation here is to grill on medium heat between 12-18 minutes max.
A Small Secret For Moist Chicken
Right when you take the chicken off the grill, place the skewers (if they fit) or chicken chunks in an empty warm pot, close the lid tightly and keep them locked for about 8-10 minutes. The trapped vapors and moisture inside the pot will make the chicken very moist. We first discovered this trick several years ago at “Gharakia Nehmeh Restaurant” in Hasroun, Lebanon, and which is operated by our family friend Laba Nehmeh and mom has since used this trick with all grilled chicken.
- 2 lbs of skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into cubes/Kabab chunks
- 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- a small slice of lemon with the peel (optional, don’t put too much)
- 15 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 6 table spoons of plain yogurt (Greek yogurt)
- 6 table spoons of olive oil
- 2 table spoons of red vinegar (apple cider vinegar)
- 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of ground white pepper
- ⅓ teaspoon of ground ginger spice
- ½ teaspoon of ground thyme, or ground oregano
- ⅓ teaspoon of paprika
- 1+ teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
- ½ to 1 teaspoon of tomato paste
- Lebanese Garlic Paste (see our recipe here) to be served with shish tawook
- Mix all ingredients well together while rubbing the chicken
- Place in a container, cover, and let rest/marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours
- Skewer the chicken right before grilling
- Grill on medium heat for 12-18 minutes maximum
- As soon as you remove them from the grill, place them in a big warm pot, replace the lid tightly, and let rest for 8-10 minutes – this helps the chicken become more moist (this step is optional)
- Spread 1 teaspoon of our garlic paste along the diameter of a pita bread, add some salted cucumber pickles, french fries, grilled tomatoes or peppers (optional), the grilled chicken shish tawook, roll as in a burrito and enjoy. You could also toast the sandwich roll through a panini grill for 2-3 minutes.
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