When Gilad Rozenberg (pastry chef at the brand new Bruce Hotel here in Stratford) put his duck shawarma on our menu for the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival I got more than a bit nostalgic for my favourite shawarma joint in Ottawa – a city with 3 shawarma joints on every block. Somehow this one stood out. Marroush Int’l was a little hole under the stairs of a nightclub on Elgin Street that served up garlic-euphoria when you most needed it – 2am and stumbling back to the university dorms from the pubs and clubs in downtown Ottawa. There was one tame version of toum (garlic sauce) for the uninitiated and, if you knew well enough to order ‘secret garlic’ you got the good stuff reserved strictly for aficionados. You’d be going home alone, to be sure, and sweating garlic for the next couple of days, but for a kid fresh off the bus from the Valley, Marroush represented spectacularly exotic, international street food with strange dish names like ‘hummus’ and ‘falafel’. The solo nights of discovery stinking of garlic were worth it.
The people that worked at and frequented Marroush, incidentally, were just as strange to me as the food. Mustafa, Ron Jeremy’s Arabic doppelgänger (pictured right), was well known for ejecting people from the restaurant if they didn’t order in appropriate haste. He might also comp you a shawarma if you flashed him your boobs, although it never worked for me. And at night, their small riot of customers were encouraged to join in on the fun, dancing on the service counter chanting, “Marroush!” while they waited for their shawarmas.
Sadly, Marroush Intl’ is no more. Where Mustafa is these days is anyone’s guess, but you can relive some Elgin Street memories by cranking up some cheezie Euro-beats, harassing anyone who may be standing around the kitchen, and cooking up these homemade chicken shawarmas. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, someone will even flash you their boobs.
Mustafa’s Chicken Shawarmas
- 2lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs
- marinade (recipe below)
- Mustafa’s Secret Garlic (recipe below)
- pita bread (Lebanese style)
- 1 cup fresh mint and parsley
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 1 cucumber, medium dice
- pickled red cabbage or gherkins
- 6 cloves garlic, mashed
- juice of 2 lemons and zest of 1
- 1/4 cup pine infused olive oil (recipe below)
- 3 bay leaves, broken
- 1 tsp each of parprika, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp each of cumin and cloves
Mustafa’s Secret Garlic
- 12 cloves (or more) garlic
- 1 tsp sea salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp water
Purée the garlic, salt and lemon in a food processor and, with the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. It should emulsify like mayo and taste like aioli on speed. Lastly, add the water. Correct for both salt and acidity to taste.
Pine Infused Olive Oil
- 1 cup good quality olive oil
- 1/2 cup of fresh, young pine needles, cleaned and patted dry
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan to 130°-140° F. Pour it over the pine needles in a heat proof dish. Let it cool and then filter the oil through a coffee filter. Save the oil you’re not going to use in the marinade for future batches of Shawarma chicken or wherever a dish needs a good hit of Spring forest flavour.
Putting it all together
Day 1: Brine your chicken in a 5% salt and sugar solution. Heat the water enough to dissolve your salt and sugar. Let cool. Drop your chicken in, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 6 hours.
Thinly slice the chicken, combine the marinade ingredients, and put both in a large freezer bag. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 2: Prepare your pita bread with a nice, thick shmear of Mustafa’s secret garlic sauce. Stir fry the marinated chicken slices in a lightly oiled, very hot Chinese cast-iron wok or skillet until cooked through, but not dried out. It won’t take long. Place chicken on pita. Dress generously with pickled red cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and mint. Drizzle with more garlic sauce! Wrap tightly in foil for the full street food experience and chow down.