We all know that summer is barbeque season, wherever you are in the world. Every country has its own barbecue foods and methods and I love trying the different flavours and methods. In the Middle East, chicken is a popular meat that we grill and perhaps the most famous recipe is shish tawouk, or grilled chicken breast. While it has become popular across the Middle East, and especially the Levant, the origin of the name is from Turkey. Shish means skewers and tawouk means chicken, and this may be due to the Ottoman Empire’s rule over the region.
The chicken gets most of its flavour from the marinade, and there are so many different ways and versions, varying from one country to another and even one family to another. This is the way my mother-in-law makes it, and I have to say that it is one of the best I’ve tried. The chicken is very flavourful and super moist, as the marinade not only infuses it with a herby tanginess, with a hint of sweetness, but the acid in it breaks the chicken down and tenderises it.
Most of the ingredients are staples found in the majority of homes and it’s just a matter of mixing everything together with the chicken and grilling it. When placing the chicken on the skewers, you want to place it lengthwise, which will allow it to have more surface area to cook evenly and get a nice char on it. You also want to avoid overcrowding your skewers. Feel free to add any veggies you like to your skewers, I prefer tomatoes and onions, but bell peppers are also a good option.
While traditionally shish tawouk is grilled over coals, you can use a gas grill, grill pan, or even stick it in the oven either by balancing the skewers across a baking tray or tipping the chicken and marinade into a baking tray, giving you a lovely sauce with the chicken. Don’t be worried if your chicken looks dark in colour, this is the caramelisation of the pomegranate molasses and believe me, this is pure flavour!
When it comes to side dishes, there are so many options! It is typically served with pitta bread or rice, tabbouleh, and a side of garlic sauce, or toumiyeh when made on its own. When made as part of a barbecue, there is usually a variety of mezze accompanying the different grilled meats, like mutabbal, humous, fattoush, or you could even try it with Turkish kisir! Whatever you serve it with, it will definitely be a winner at your next barbecue!
3 large chicken breasts, cut into medium-sized chunks
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
A handful of fresh thyme or oregano
Onions and tomatoes for skewering
- In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients and leave to marinade at least 3 hours or preferably overnight. This can marinade in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
- When ready to cook, arrange on skewers with your choice of vegetables. I used tomatoes and onions, but you can also add bell peppers. Make sure not to overcrowd your skewer.
- Grill on a barbeque grill, grill pan, or even balance it over a baking tray and place in the oven. Make sure to turn the skewers over midway through cooking. If you don’t have skewers, you can place the chicken along with the marinade and the veggies in a baking tray and bake in the oven.
- Cook for about 20 minutes or until your chicken is cooked through. Serve alongside salads, like kisir or tabbouleh, rice, pita bread, grilled vegetables, mutabbal, or any other side you like. Don’t forget the toumiyeh, or garlic sauce. Enjoy!