Sam Sifton’s Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma

by Carol Sacks on February 11, 2015

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If you crave the intoxicating flavors of the Middle East, I’ve got a dish for you. Or, rather, The New York Times’ Sam Sifton does: a tender, powerfully-flavored, home-kitchen version of Chicken Shawarma, but without the fire, smoke and spit.

For all of its flavor, Sifton’s Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma is deceptively simple to prepare. A couple of pounds of chicken thighs marinate for a few hours — or several if you can swing it — in a mix of lemon juice, olive oil, loads of garlic and a combo of spices — cumin, paprika, turmeric and cinnamon. A shake or two of red pepper flakes pump up the heat.

While the chicken is in the fridge soaking up flavor, take yourself to the market and pick up the fixings for the rest of your feast.

Think stacks of warmed pita, bowls of hummus topped with toasted pine nuts and a swirl of olive oil. We also like ours with garlicky baba ghanoush and a crunchy Greek salad topped with chunks of mild French feta. Sifton’s story is full of ideas for complementary sides that you can make yourself or buy.

I’ve made this chicken twice in the last two weeks for my crew, making adjustments to the seasonings, adding another sliced red onion to the mix (because they’re divine and we three each wanted more) and decreasing the cooking time a bit. I also marinate the chicken thighs in a plastic bag, rather than a bowl, and store it on a plate in the fridge. I find it easier to flip the bag, moving the marinade around to coat the chicken rather than stirring things around in the bowl every 30 minutes or so.

My version of the recipe is below; you can find Sam Sifton’s recipe here. Before you get cooking, be sure to read his evocative story. His writing always is a treat.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Sam Sifton's Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma
Recipe type: entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
Packed with flavor, simple to prepare and the centerpiece of your next family feast.
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • healthy pinch ground cinnamon
  • healthy pinch of Red-pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 large red onions, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  1. Put the chicken in a large, plastic bag with a zip closing.
  2. Prepare the marinade for the chicken: Combine the lemon juice, ½ cup olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and red-pepper flakes in a large measuring cup (I used a 2-cup measure), then whisk to combine.
  3. Pour the marinade into the plastic bag with the chicken, zip to close and massage the chicken so that it's well-coated. Place on a dinner plate, and store in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.
  4. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Add the sliced onions to the bag with the marinating chicken, seal it and squeeze it until the onions are coated with the marinade.
  5. Unzip the bag and squeeze out the chicken, onion and marinade onto a large, rimmed cookie sheet. Spread everything into one layer.
  6. Put the chicken in the oven, and roast until it is browned, crisp at the edges and cooked through. I pulled the chicken from the oven at about 25 minutes. If you continue to cook it (Sifton’s recipe calls for 30-40 minutes, keep a close eye on it.)
  7. Remove from the oven, allow to rest 2 minutes, then slice into bits. Scatter the parsley over the top and serve with your favorite sides.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth (OMG! Yummy) February 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm

Oh gosh Carol – how many ways do I love this – looking forward to reading Sam Sifton’s article but love it that you’ve road-tested this and shared your version. It has Tasting Jerusalem’s Jan and Feb ingredients in it too – cumin and turmeric so heading over to share over there soon too!


Carol Sacks February 11, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Thank you so much, Beth! I hope you give it a try soon!


Winifred Lloyds Lender February 12, 2015 at 7:26 am

We love middle eastern fare and this sounds like it will be a wonderful treat to try. My mouth is already watering just looking at your lovely photos!


Carol Sacks February 12, 2015 at 7:31 am

Hi Winifred, thank you so much! I hope you enjoy your feast!


Jill Lucas February 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I made this recipe, too, and also will add more onion next time. It was a huge hit at our house. Simple and irresistible.


Carol Sacks February 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Glad to hear it, Jill! Thanks so much for checking in.


Deb|EastofEdenCooking February 12, 2015 at 5:18 pm

You have convinced me! I am making this recipe as soon as I gather the ingredients together.
I adore the ease of preparation, yet with outstanding flavor.


Carol Sacks February 12, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I hope you enjoy it as much as we have, Deb! Thanks so much for checking in.


Deb|EastofEdenCooking February 14, 2015 at 8:13 am

Checking back to say I made the Oven Roasted Shawarma, we loved it! This is a great recipe with easy prep and outstanding flavor. Thank you for sharing Carol!


Carol Sacks February 14, 2015 at 9:33 am

Hi Deb, thank you so much for letting me know. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. Have a great weekend!


Gail February 16, 2015 at 6:26 am

Not sure how I missed this recipe in the paper, but I’m sure glad I saw it here! Sounds utterly scrumptious, Carol!


Carol Sacks February 16, 2015 at 6:33 am

Hi Gail, thanks so much. Super-tast dish — I know you’ll enjoy it!


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