Tavuk Siş: Authentic Turkish Chicken Kebab Recipe

Basic Turkish chicken kebabs are marinated in seasoned yogurt or milk before grilling
Photo © alex9500 - Fotolia.com
  • 27 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 12 mins
  • Yield: 6-8 kebabs (8 servings)
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There are so many recipes for chicken shish kebab out there, you may not know where to turn. The best place to start is where it all began – with Turkish cuisine. Did you know that Turkey is famous for introducing shish kebab to the world? 

There’s good reason why the world’s best kebabs come from Turkey, better known as " tavuk şiş" (tah-VOOK’ SHEESH’). The method of cooking meats on a skewer over an open fire originated on the steppes of central Asia. In Turkey, it’s said the descendants of Ghengiz Khan himself strung their daily catch on their swords and cooked them over an open flame. This concept was refined over time and was brought to the world with the westward migration of Turkic peoples.

When it comes to modern kebabs, you’ll be surprised to learn that authentic Turkish shish kebab is actually very plain. Most kebabs, with the exception of certain combination dishes like ‘patlıcanlı kebabı’ (pot-LUH’-john-LUH’ keh-BOB’-uh), or eggplant kebab, are simply marinated meat--they usually don’t include vegetables on the same skewer. While the meat and chicken are skewered and grilled, vegetables like tomatoes and hot green peppers are put directly on the grill and served alongside the kebab as a garnish.

In Turkish cuisine, chicken kebab is often served alongside grilled beef and lamb to offer an alternative for those who prefer lighter fare. The key to great, authentic Turkish kebab is in the quality of the meat and the flavor imparted by the marinade. This recipe for basic chicken kebab features a simple marinade made from plain yogurt or milk, onion, garlic and spices that transforms plain white or dark meat chicken into succulent, flavorful kebabs that don’t need much else. 

You can adjust the ingredients to your taste and add hot red pepper in place of sweet paprika to spice things up. You can also add vegetables like cherry tomatoes if you wish. 

What You'll Need

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, or 4 to 5 boneless thighs
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or milk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Oregano, sumac, and paprika for garnish

How to Make It

  1. Heat the grill to medium.
  2. Wash the chicken in very cold water for several minutes. Blot the meat dry on paper towels. Cut the meat into bite-sized cubes about the size of large dice.
  3. Using the finest grater possible, grate the onion and garlic cloves. Pour the pulp and juice into a very fine mesh strainer and using a wooden spoon, press out the juice into a separate bowl. Discard the onion and garlic pulp.
  1. In a glass or ceramic bowl, combine the onion/garlic juice, yogurt or milk, oil, tomato paste, and seasonings. Add the cubed chicken and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, or overnight for the best results.
  2. When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove the pieces from the marinade and thread them onto small metal or bamboo kebab skewers. The chunks of chicken can touch each other, but don’t put them too closely together.
  3. Sprinkle the kebabs with salt and put them on the grill. Grill them evenly on all sides, about 12 minutes total. You can sprinkle Turkish spices like oregano and paprika over the hot kebabs to add extra flavor.