5 Tips to Perfecting Middle Eastern Restaurant Style Chicken
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
If there is one protein Middle Eastern restaurants know how to prepare is chicken, and there are several techniques you can incorporate to get the same tender and juicy results. From using an easy makeshift spit roaster, to adding the right marinade, the cooking tips below will help you create flavorful and tender chicken at home, whether using chicken breast or chicken thighs.
One cut of meat many find challenging to work with is the chicken breast. While chicken breast is filling, high in protein, and low in fat, it can be quite dry and unappetizing if not prepared the right way. One three-ounce portion is only about 128 calories, 3 grams of fat, and a whopping 26 grams of protein, so it makes a worthy and satisfying addition to any meal. To start, make sure you use excellent quality chicken. The best are not only organic and free-range, but pasture-raised and air chilled. Generally, local farmers at your farmer’s market will carry this kind of chicken, but if not, you can use any organic and air-chilled chicken brand in a supermarket near you. The most popular method in the U.S. from past to present has been to water-chill birds. However, a handful of chicken processors have embraced the newer air-chilled method as well. The air-chilling process results in great-tasting chicken with tender, succulent meat, and extra-crispy skin if roasted in the oven.
Tips to Make the Best Middle Eastern Chicken:
Click on the video below to see how to assemble an easy spit roaster, using just an onion and a wooden skewer for a middle eastern style “Pyramid Chicken:”
To ensure that even the tougher cut of chicken breast remains moist and tender every time, you can also try out these tips below.
- Use a tenderizer. Pounding chicken with a tenderizer is not only a great way to unleash your frustrations of the day, but also tenderizes the chicken, and creates a surface that better absorbs any marinade.
- Marinate your chicken, preferably with buttermilk or yogurt, which break down the acids in chicken, leading to a more tender meat
- Marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours– this is a good time to let the acidity of the yogurt absorb into the meat, as well as infuse any other spices you add with it.
- The cooking method is important, (hint do not boil the chicken) Spit roasting is great to retain the juices and ensure even cooking and you can even use a makeshift spit roaster with only an onion and a wooden skewer as outlined below.
- Let the meat rest at least 15 minutes before you cut it. You worked so hard to make chicken juicy, if you cut it right away all those juices will leach out!
Middle Eastern Style Pyramid Chicken Recipe:
- 1 pound chicken fillets (breast or thigh whatever you prefer)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- pepper to taste
- 1 large onion
- 1 wooden skewer
Combine all of the ingredients from the Greek yogurt to the pepper in a bowl. Take the chicken, and coat each fillet with the yogurt and spice mix. You can keep the chicken in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours–or overnight is best. When ready to cook, peel the onion, and cut the end of the bottom side so that the onion can sit flat in the pan. Soak the wooden skewer for 30 minutes, then pierce the onion with it. Layer the chicken fillets on top of the onion. Make sure you don’t add too much chicken or else it will topple over. Use more onions and skewers to make a bigger batch of chicken. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then bake the chicken for 45- 50 minutes.
Serve the chicken shawarma style in a wrap, in a salad, or with vegetables and rice on the side.
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in the Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/
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