This is simply the most tender, succulent chicken you can eat—thanks to the yogurt marinade, which is a great tenderizer. These skewers are wonderful grilled, but broiling under high heat is delicious, too. If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 15 minutes before using them so that they don’t burn before the chicken is cooked.
- Rinse a large heavy pot (3-quart / 3 L or larger) with cool water. Every Lebanese woman I know does this to help prevent scorching; I don’t question it. Add the milk, and if you’re using a thermometer, clip it to the side of the pan without letting it touch the bottom. Heat the milk slowly over medium-low heat to just below a boil (210˚F / 98˚C), about 30 minutes, depending on how cold the milk is to start. Heating the milk too quickly can result in grainy yogurt. Stay nearby, because the milk will froth up, and as it begins to boil it will rise swiftly in the pan and can overflow. Move the pot off of the heat immediately when it hits 210˚F / 98˚C, or when the milk froths and starts to rise.
- Let the milk cool down to 110˚F to 115˚F / 43˚C to 46˚C, stirring occasionally. If you are not using a thermometer, the equivalent is when your pinkie can just withstand being swirled in the milk for ten seconds before you have to pull it away. Arriving at this temperature can take an hour.
- To speed it up place the pot in an ice bath in the sink, stirring the milk regularly to release the heat. Temper and loosen the starter by stirring some of the warm milk into it, a tablespoon at a time, about 6 tablespoons total. Stir the warmed starter yogurt thoroughly into the milk. You will notice a skin formed on the surface of the milk while it was heating up; that can be stirred right in with the starter.
- Remove the thermometer if you’ve used one, and cover the pot with its lid. Drape a clean kitchen towel over the pot and set it aside, undisturbed, in a warm spot up to 110˚F / 43˚C for 6 to 12 hours. The longer the yogurt incubates, the more developed the flavor will be. I like to make yogurt in the evening and let it rest overnight and well into the next day. An ideal incubator is the oven, turned off (the oven can be heated on the lowest setting for a minute before placing the pan in, just to encourage warmth, but don’t forget to turn it off!). Remove the lid from the pot. The milk will have thickened into yogurt, which you can tell by lightly jiggling the pot.
- Chill the pot of yogurt, undisturbed as of yet, for a day or so before eating it or straining to thicken it for labneh.
- In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, onion, garlic, lemon, mint, and olive oil. Cut the chicken into 1- to 2-inch / 2.5 to 5 cm pieces and place them in a medium bowl or a plastic ziplock bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover the bowl or seal the bag, and refrigerate for at least 8 and up to 24 hours (the longer, the more flavorful).
- Preheat a grill or broiler on medium-high. Place the chicken in a colander and drain off the marinade. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Thread 6 skewers with the chicken, leaving some breathing room (about 1⁄8 inch / 3 mm) between the pieces. Generously season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
- Grill the chicken over medium-high heat, or broil them on a broiler or sheet pan, until the chicken is cooked through and is slightly charred around the edges, about 10 minutes on the grill and about 20 minutes under the broiler. Turn the skewers over halfway through cooking.
- Remove the cooked chicken from the skewers with a fork. Serve the chicken hot with the toum, either on the side for dipping or drizzled over the chicken after it has been removed from the skewers.
- Peel the garlic cloves and slice them in half lengthwise. If there is a green germ in any of the cloves, remove it to prevent the bitter, burning flavor it imparts.
- Process the garlic cloves with the salt in the food processor, stopping and scraping down the sides a few times, until the garlic is minced. Add the lemon juice and pulse several times to combine.
- With the processor on, begin to drizzle the oil in so slowly that the stream turns to a dribble at times; use the oil drip hole in the top of the processor if yours has one. After 1⁄4 cup / 60 mL of the oil has been added, slowly pour in a tablespoon / 15 mL of the ice water. Continue slowly drizzling in the oil and slowly adding a tablespoon of ice water after every 1⁄4 cup / 60 mL of oil until the sauce is thickened and all of the oil has been incorporated. This takes about 7 minutes.
- The sauce will be slightly thick, with some body, but still pourable. Store the toum in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Photography credit: Jason Varney