Persian chicken kebab (joojeh kabob or kabob eh morgh) is incredibly moist and flavorful because of the saffron, onion and yogurt marinade. Find more of my Persian kabob recipes.
There used to be a time when no one in the U.S. heard of “kabobs.” When I grew up in Houston, for example, the nearest Persian restaurant was an hour away. No bamboo skewers were to be found at the grocery store.
Making kabob at home was a lot of work. Especially without skewers! But today, everyone is making kabob and making kabob their own. Stick any food on a stick, call it kabob and enjoy. Who would have thunk?!
My grandmother was an amazing cook. She also made amazing kabob, the old fashion way: stooped over a small charcoal stove, fanning the flames by hand. My mother-in-law is equally talented as a cook and I have learned even more about Persian cooking from her. And since my kids love kabob so much, my husband and I team up and make it often and at home.
Although everyone loves Ground Beef Kabob (Kabob Koobideh), I tend to prefer Chicken Kabob, Kabob-eh Morgh or Joojeh Kabob, for quick everyday meals. It is easier to make, quicker to prepare and definitely lighter in calories!
Why this recipe is so awesome
Persian chicken kabob comes in many forms and of course, have different names. Chicken Kabob, known in farsi as kabob eh morgh, is the recipe I am sharing today. It is made with chunks of marinated chicken breast. Chicken barg is made completely differently.
Kabab barg is made with filet mignon, not chunks, but thinly sliced. Chicken barg mimics the beef version, so instead of chunks of chicken breast you have them thinly sliced.
The third type of chicken kabob that Persians make is joojeh kabob. In farsi, joojeh means “chicks,” as in baby chickens. Before you freak out, know that joojeh kabob is not grill baby chicks, but grilled cornish hens, bones included.
Many Persian use joojeh kabob to mean any kind of chicken kabob, boneless or with bone. Either way, the marinade I have for my chicken kabob works great for either of these versions of chicken kabob.
See my Persian Chicken Breast Kabob Web Story for a quick visual guide to making this recipe.
The reason why we marinate our meats before cooking is not only add flavor, but to also tenderize the meat. An acid is usually used as it breaks down the meat very easily. But there are other ways to tenderize and marinate the meat.
Yogurt makes a terrific marinade, as well. The active bacteria in yogurt helps break down protein, thus making your chicken moist and tender. A yogurt marinade works more slowly than the traditional acid version, so you will need a good 12 hours of marinating time.
The marinade I am sharing for my Persian chicken kabob is made with yogurt, onions (another fabulous tenderizer) and saffron. The saffron gives tremendous flavor, aroma and of course, its glorious yellow color.
Ingredients you need
- Boneless skinless chicken breast: Usually when I am grilling chicken on skewers for kebab, I like to use boneless chicken breast. But you can easily use boneless skinless chicken thighs, too. And as I mentioned above, this marinade also works with bone-in chicken, especially chicken wings and drumettes.
- Onion: Regular brown or white onions work perfectly in this recipe.
- Saffron: When using saffron, choose long strands that are crimson in color for best quality. Powdered saffron can have food coloring or turmeric mixed in and is not as fragrant as real saffron.
- Plain yogurt: You can use Greek or thick Persian yogurt. You can also use regular yogurt.
- Garlic: This is optional, but garlic adds tremendous flavor.
- Butter: Because chicken breast is low in fat, we baste the kabob with a lemon butter mixture. And of course, butter adds flavor! You can use salted or unsalted butter.
- Lemon juice: Persians love their sour stuff. You can use bottled or freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- Pantry staples: Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
1. Crush your saffron using a mortar and pestle and steep with hot water.
2. Cut chicken into 2-inch cubes and place in a large shallow container and mix in onions, half the saffron water, yogurt, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Coat all pieces of chicken completely with marinade.
Cover and marinate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
3. Slide chicken breast pieces close together onto metal skewers, leaving room on each end of the skewer to handle without burning yourself. This also insures the meat is resting on the hottest part of your grill.
4. In a small saucepan add butter, lemon juice and the other half of saffron water. Cook this over medium heat until melted and combined.
5. Start your charcoal at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. Grill kabobs for 8-15 minutes, turning occasionally and basting with butter-lemon mix. The chicken is done when the juice running out is no longer pink.
6. A trick we like to use to remove kebab meat from hot skewers when they are done cooking is by grabbing it with a sheet of lavash bread or even a flour tortilla and sliding it down the skewer onto your serving platter.
To keep the meat warm, cover with another sheet of lavash bread. Trust me, this bread soaked with all the juices is HEAVEN!
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Expert tips and recipe FAQs
Persian kabob is also grilled using long flat metal skewers, not the thin kind you normally see. The flat skewers keep your meat from spinning around as they would on those thin skewers. Baste your chicken kabob with a saffron lemon butter mixture to keep it golden, juicy and delicious.
Traditionally Persian Chicken Kabob is served with grilled tomatoes, onions and any other grilled vegetables you like with a big bed of basmati rice. We like to enjoy our Chicken Kabob with Shirazi Salad or Mast o Khiar (Persian Yogurt with Cucumbers) and a plate of fresh herbs, onions and radishes (sabzi khordan). I’m getting hungry just typing about it!
A little phonetics lesson is also included in this post. It’s a minor pet peeve of mine. Kabob is pronounced: ka (like the ‘a’ in ‘at’) bob (like your pal named ‘Bob’). It’s not kay-bab or kuh-bab or whatever else you may have heard.
Americans might slur it together and say kuh-bob, and spell it kebab, but that’s wrong, too.
Kabob. Kabob. Say it with me: KA-BOB!
Learn it. Love it. Lesson over.
Persian kebab is not cooked over grilles heated by propane or gas tanks. Hot coals are a must for kabob grilling, so include some additional time for this. If you have a grill rack, remove it so the skewers can rest freely above the fire.
Persian joojeh kabob is typically made with boneless skinless chicken breast, but you can also use boneless skinless chicken thighs. You can also marinate and skewer chicken wings and drumettes for kebab cooking.
- 3 ½ lb boneless skinless chicken breast
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon saffron, ground & dissolved in 2 TBS of hot water
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Cut chicken into 2-inch cubes.
- Place chicken in a large shallow container and mix in onions, half the saffron water, yogurt, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Coat all pieces of chicken completely with marinade.
- Cover and marinate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
- Start your charcoal at least 30 minutes prior to grilling.
- Slide chicken breast pieces close together onto metal skewers, leaving room on each end of the skewer to handle without burning yourself. This also insures the meat is resting on the hottest part of your grill.
- In a small saucepan add butter, lemon juice and the other half of saffron water. Cook this over medium heat until melted and combined.
- Grill kabobs for 8-15 minutes, turning occasionally and basting with butter-lemon mix.
- The chicken is done when the juice running out is no longer pink.
- Remove from heat and remove meat from skewers by grabbing it and sliding it down the skewer with one sheet of lavash bread.
- Place chicken on a serving plate and cover with another sheet of lavash bread to keep the chicken warm.
Serving Size:5-6 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 345Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 148mgSodium: 477mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 2gProtein: 50g
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