Chicken Brochette in the Pakistani Manner

Asghar squats on top of a wooden table and fans the coal embers as the chicken tikka, impaled on steel skewers, turns a carbon-black around the edges as it plumpens and becomes amber-hued in the middle. Asghar has worked at Punjab Tikka House in Main Market, Lahore for as long as I can remember. As I sit watching from the car, he effortlessly slides off the bite-sized pieces of chicken tikka with his bare hands. Onto a newspaper. One fold, two fold, then a third, just like fish & chips in England. Then into the plastic bag they go.

He calls out to his helper in Punjabi, “Chotay, naan leyya,” ordering his “Chota” ; understudy / helper to bring the fresh naan; white and plump. Chota inserts a long steel rod into the clay tandoor, and hooks it into the naan. Out comes one, then another, then another. Into a newspaper they go, too.

Asghar’s chicken tikka; chicken brochette, are as legendary as the inlaid semi-precious stones and as intricate as the precious marble carvings you will find inside the Lahore Fort.

Asghar knows his clients’ preferences. He does not offer me any raita on the side, even though I love the small bits of herbs blended into the cooling yoghurt, giving it a pungency incomparable to the raita served in our home. But it is verboten. I am visiting Lahore for a few weeks and Kaka, (paternal uncle, in Dari), has made it clear I am not to eat or drink anything which is served at room temperature, for fear of food poisoning. Living abroad makes one vulnerable to bacteria and parasites, unfortunately.

Once home, we open the plastic bag, all soft and flaccid from the steam of the chicken tikka and naan. Onto our plates it goes, then we douse it with homemade, creamy yoghurt and mint chutney. Even a few squirts of lemon, fresh from the dwarf Chinese lemon tree, lemon with the thinnest skin, seedless and juicy till the end. Some slender slices of cucumber, for textural contrast against the silk-like pieces of chicken; offering a cooling effect against the fiery spices Asghar uses.

And then a glass of salty, creamy lassi as a chaser.

A perfect summer meal in Lahore.

Living in Toronto, I have used some of the local herbs for the raita, which we don’t find in Lahore- feel free to throw together any of the herbs you find in your farmer’s market. I have used tarragon, chives, mint, coriander and thyme. Chop them fine, mix them in with some greek-style yoghurt or Syrian / Lebanese labneh (or even regular yoghurt, if you can’t find the thick style), and serve the chicken brochette on top with heirloom tomatoes, adding some sweetness against the hot punch of the spices.

Serves 4
You will need 8 short metal skewers. If you do not have these, you can use wooden or bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water overnight so they don’t burn when they are under the broiler.

Ingredients:
*Corn oil or any other neutral oil
*2 lbs boneless chicken breast or thigh, cut into small cube-like pieces
*3/4 tsp salt
*1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili pepper
*1/4 tsp haldi (turmeric powder)
*1/2 tsp zeera (cumin) powder
*1/2 tsp dhania (dried coriander) powder
*1 tsp minced garlic (or garlic paste; available in jar)
*1 tsp minced ginger (or ginger paste; available in jar)
*1/4 cup whole natural yoghurt (for marinade)
*1 cup greek-style yoghurt
*a mix of fresh herbs- tarragon, coriander, chives, mint- whatever you find at your farmer’s market or in your grocery store
*2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced thin
*2 fresh limes, quartered

Preparation:
*Cut your chicken into small cubes (approximately 1in)
*Add salt, haldi, chili, zeera powder, dhania powder, garlic, ginger and yoghurt and mix well.
*Allow the chicken to rest in the marinade for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. The yoghurt serves to tenderise the chicken.
*Prepare your herbed yoghurt by chopping all the herbs and mixing then in with the yoghurt with a pinch of salt.
*When ready to prepare the chicken brochette, bring the chicken to room temperature and pre-heat your broiler.
*Thread chicken onto 8 skewers (shaking the excess yoghurt off as it will burn in the oven), and place on a tray lined with foil.
*Drizzle some oil on top. Turn the skewers over and repeat; ensure they are coated well with oil.
*Place directly under the broiler in your oven.
*Each side will take approximately 5-7 minutes to cook, depending on the intensity of your broiler.
*Once the first side is done, carefully flip the brochette.
*Allow the other side to broil now.
*Remove from the oven and serve with herbed yoghurt, slices of heirloom tomatoes, lime wedges and naan.

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Comments

  1. These look delightful! I like the ingredients, the colour and meat on skewers are just plain delish!

  2. Such lovely pics, Shayma. Will have to make these for little S – I’m sure he’ll love them :)

  3. There’s nothing like tikkas in Lahore with piping hot naan. I eat everything when I go despite my stomach, hehe.

    Lovely photos, so bright and vibrant. I love how you add a variety of herbs to your raita rather than the traditional mint/cilantro, so fresh. yummy!

  4. That looks delicious! Lovely post :)

  5. Chicken looks sooo good!!! I think I’m making this for dinner tonight!!! Creamy Lassi sounds tempting as a chaser!! Love the photography!! xo

  6. gourmand says:

    What a yummy piece….mouth watering tikkas and nans. But, do the ones at home approximate the ones on coal embers with the table fan blowing the ash on to the tikkas and kebabs, unintentionally adding flavor.

  7. Shayma – This post makes me want to reach into my screen, slip a piece of chicken from a skewer with my fingers, dredge it through the raita, and pop it in my mouth. Beautiful flavors, tasty photographs, and a lovely story.. Thank you – S

  8. these look absolutely amazing.it’s simply mouth-watering and i like how you can make them in the oven!lovely photos, Shayma joon.x

  9. Oh yum! Shayma – Kababs any day with naan & raita! Yours look oh so divine!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  10. Those Tikkas look so good! I love your metal skewers, I have used the bamboo ones but they always get charred

  11. These do look fab. It’s always so hard to capture the feeling of food that sticks in the memory, but conversely, if you get close, the memory becomes that little more alive in your mouth.

    I love the use of yoghurt to marinade and slather at the end. I have started to grate a little cucumber, squeeze it out and then add it alongside herbs in raita. Adds another layer of coolness to it.

    Great dish, story and recipe Shayma.

  12. Shayma
    More than the recipe I love visiting you and getting a whiff of Lahore in my nostrils. Take me there will you? My passport is ready!

  13. Shayma, I have been a silent reader for a while now and I just had to let you know how you make the Pakistani/Iranian cuisine so much more interesting with your flawless writing style, amazing photography and mouth-watering/decadent recipes.

    I am such a fan of yours…wish you the best of luck always and hope to read more of your admirable work and be inspired everytime :)

  14. These look great Shayma–I too want to go to Pakistan with you!!!

  15. Chris Huck says:

    Love your writing and recipes too. Had to try it and it came out great! Keep up the good work! Chris
    Here’s a photo of the dish:
    http://i296.photobucket.com/albums/mm162/chrishuck_photos/Leica%20X1%20shots/L1080232.jpg

  16. Thanks for all the lovely comments.

    @Gourmand You are right- they cannot taste as authentic as the ones which Asghar prepares on the coal embers, but then again, how can one replicate that whole experience of being in Lahore, right?

    @Nida Try soaking them overnight. That’s what I do when using bamboo skewers.

    @Grubworm Thank you. Cucumber raita is a staple in our home-I like it chunky and I also like it grated-I like how you squeeze the water out.

    @TasteofBeirut @Nour I would adore to take you both, Joumana and Nour. I just hope that the situation stabilises somewhat. But my home in Toronto is always open for you!

    @Rabya You are very kind- many thanks for visiting.

    @ChrisHuck Many thanks, Chris. Your photo is gorgeous-I love the roasted/grilled vegetables on the side- and the asparagus- it rounds the meal off rather nicely. Us Pakistani-Afghans are carnivores and many a time forget to add vegetables into the mix!

    @

  17. Grumble grumble – need to get oven fixed. This looks fabulous wrapped in some flatbread for a picnic.

  18. Perfect recipe for summer, Shayma. I feel like I was there in Lahore for a moment, courtesy of your vivid writing.

  19. I love this blog!!!!!!!!!!!I’ve just discovered it thanks to your reply on Kalofagas’ page

    AWESOME………I’m drooling all over my keyboard!!!

    XXGreg

  20. Simply delicious writing and pics – when’s your next post?
    Kx

  21. Hi Shayma! You are an amazing food resource, thank you for bringing to life your cuisine and flavors with your amazing stories :) . xoxo

  22. To get that charcoal taste you will need,
    a cooking dish with a tight (and I mean tight) fitting lid,
    a medium sized piece of charcoal
    a bunch of onion skins or stale bread or naan or roti, some oil.

    Just place the cooked botis in a circle along the circumfrence of the pot. Heat the charcoal ember till it glows red. Place the onion skins or the stale naan, bread etc in the middle of the pot and put the ember on it. Pour just a few drops of oil so that it starts to smoke. Cover with the lid for 2-3 mins or upto 7 mins if you want a more intense smoky flavour.

  23. The perfect summer meal anywhere
    Delicious story telling and lovely recipe. Noted, bookmarked, this will be made this summer.

  24. Will definitely try this :)

  25. grumble – need to get oven fixed. This looks fabulous wrapped in some flatbread for a picnic.

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