Ingredients: cardamom, sumac, garlic, paprika, white pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, oregano
With the rising popularity of everything from hummus to tabbouleh and chicken Shawarma to pita bread, Middle Eastern staple dishes, recipes and spices are gaining a wider acceptance in the US. Couple that with the fact that 75% of all Americans own a grill (with 61% of them grilling year round), then of course adding a flavorful Middle Eastern seasoning blend that’s perfect for the grill would be right up our alley.
Shish Taouk is pronounced “shish too ik” or “shish ta wook”, and in Arabic may also be spelled as tawook, tawouk or tauwos. This is one of the tastier chicken Kabobs around and is liberally seasoned, heavy on garlic and lemon, and seems to have been created specifically for the grill. This Turkish dish is popular throughout the Middle East (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates), while the Persians have their own version called “Jujeh Kabob” (also called Joojay kebob or Joojeh kabab).
Shish Taouk is served in kebab restaurants, as a street food or at home. Like many regional seasoning blends, there is no one single recipe, and each family and chef has their own preferred blend.
Shish Taouk is also known as Sis Tavuk (Turkish) or Toyuq kababi (Azerbaijani).
The word “Shish” or “Sis” comes from old Turkish which translates to “skewer” and is a Persian loanword (sikh). “Taouk” or “Tavuk” is derived from old Turkic language “Takagu” which means “chicken”.
Shish Taouk is a kebab of Turkish origin, but is now found throughout most of the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. It is simply bite sized chicken cubes that are marinated with Turkish spices, then skewered and grilled.
Turkish cuisine is shaped by its history, a melding of Byzantine (also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire) and Oriental influences with a touch of Western cuisine throw in. Istanbul (historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium) is the most populous city in Turkey and is the country's economic, culinary, cultural, and historic center. The historic Silk Road ran through Istanbul, which gave the city direct access to both Europe and the Middle East, as well as being the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to have produced a cosmopolitan populace.
Before the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922) came to control the region, Istanbul was a sophisticated city of Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Bulgars, Circassians, Genoses, Greeks, Jews, Serbs and Venetians. As with most cultured cities, these diverse people had a hand in shaping Turkish cuisine. Subsequent generations have further evolved the cuisine so that it has its own unique character.
The word kebab comes from Arabic (kabab) influenced by Persian, Turkish and Urdu. Kebab was mentioned in a Turkish script of Kyssa-i Yusuf in 1377, which is the oldest known Turkish source where kebab is mentioned as a food.
There are several secrets to a spectacular Shish Taouk. The first is the marinade which is often yogurt, lemon juice and tomato paste. The yogurt and lemon juice provide not only flavor, but also tenderizes the meat as it marinates. To make the marinade for two pounds of chicken mix ¾ cup of plain yogurt, ¼ cup of lemon juice, ¼ cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and 2 tablespoons of our Shish Taouk seasoning. Marinate for at least 20-30 minutes. We’ve found that 4 hours is sufficient to give the chicken a nice flavor, while some cooks believe that marinating overnight provides even more flavor.
Thread the marinated chicken cubes onto metal or wooden skewers along with vegetables such as bell peppers, eggplants, onions and tomatoes. Because of the marinade and the smaller pieces of the chicken, these kebabs will cook very quickly on the grill (approximately 5-8 minutes on a preheated grill of 500-600°).
The second secret is that once the chicken is pulled off the grill it should be placed in a warm covered pot before serving, which really makes the chicken tender and juicy. Experiment with how long you should leave the chicken in the covered pot before serving for optimal flavor. We typically go for about 10 minutes.
As mentioned previously, numerous Middle Eastern countries have their own version of Shish Taouk, and each country serves it a bit differently. In Turkey, it is generally served with rice, yogurt and skewer grilled vegetables. The Lebanese and Syrian version is usually served with toum, (pronounced “tao um”, is a garlic sauce, similar to the Provençal aioli), hummus and tabbouleh. In Israeli, Shish Taouk is served in either flat bread or a pita with a sumac flavored tahini, fried onions and grilled hot chili peppers with a side of either tabbouleh or Israeli salad.
In Lebanon fast food restaurants, Shish Taouk it typically ordered as a sandwich rolled in a “pita” bread with some Lebanese Garlic Sauce.
As with many Middle Eastern seasoning blends, the flavor is complex. You’ll find that it is layered with rich flavors that are slightly floral, spicy and tangy with citrusy notes and a hint of sweetness.
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