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Allspice (Recipe: garlic chicken on skewers) {gluten-free}

Garlic chicken on skewers, with a hint of lemon. #chicken

Do you think it's easy deciding where to start?

I was this close to logic and predictability, beginning at the beginning with the quintessential pantry items: salt and pepper. And then, this morning, the universe sent me a sign. Two signs, actually.

First: While Ted was watching the World Cup soccer matches on TV, I entered all of the pantry items willy-nilly into a database on my computer, and kicked out an alphabetized list of more than 200 items that are always in my fridge, freezer, spice rack and cupboards.

Top of the list? Allspice.



Second: We'd vowed to "eat down" our pantry and leftovers this weekend, so I needed to forage. In the freezer I discovered a deeply-buried package of Empire kosher chicken breasts. On the counter sat a couple of lemons that were a day away from relegation to the compost bucket. I always have garlic, and olive oil, and allspice. In my kitchen that adds up to one thing: garlic chicken on skewers.


Until I decided to try my hand at food writing, I'm sure I'd never ever bought allspice, nor did I have a clue about how to use it. However, my desire for the recipe for the absolutely heavenly garlic-lemon-allspice chicken kabobs made by Elias "Louie" Aboujaoude at Cedar's Restaurant in Boston propelled me into a food writing career, so perhaps it is the best place to begin our pantry exploration.

Within a week of moving to the South End 30 years ago, Ted and I settled ourselves at a window table at Cedar’s to watch our new neighborhood stroll by. For the first few months, we tasted our way up and down the menu of traditional Lebanese dishes, moving from the familiar shish kabob and falafel to kibbie bi syniyeh and kufta balls.

Then we discovered the garlic chicken, listed on the menu as “#25 chicken on skewer,” and life changed forever. We began to have garlic chicken cravings, and to bring friends to the restaurant to taste the dish and help us figure out the ingredients. In my own tiny kitchen I began to experiment. Each attempt was, as they say, “close but no cigar.”

By July 1993, I’d been tasting and trying to recreate Cedar’s garlic chicken for 13 years (at two skewers per serving, that’s more than 400 skewers!). I knew the time had come to ask for the recipe, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And then it occurred to me that others also might like to learn the secret. Wouldn’t it be fun to share recipes, and stories of the lives of neighborhood cooks, in the local newspaper?

So that's how I became a professional food writer.

And that's why there's always fresh ground allspice in my pantry.

The dried berry of the evergreen pimiento tree, allspice, native to the West Indies and Central America, was discovered by Christopher Columbus -- who thought it was pepper, hence its Spanish name, pimienta. Subsequently it became known as Jamaican pepper, because most of the best quality crop grew there; the English gave it the name "allspice", because it mimics the aroma of several spices, including cloves, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

According to Herbs & Spices by Jill Norman, "allspice is the only important spice that still comes almost exclusively from its region of origin -- which also makes it the only one grown almost exclusively in the New World."

Today the majority of the world allspice harvest goes to the food industry, for use in commercial ketchups and other sauces. Allspice is an essential ingredient in jerk spice blends, barbecue sauces and rubs, chutneys, and sausages. Bakers often incorporate it into spice cakes. The whole berries add important flavor to the pickling spice mix I use for my half-sours every summer.

Shish taouk, garlic chicken on skewers with hints of lemon and allspice. #chicken

Shish taouk (garlic chicken on skewers)

From the pantry, you'll need: chicken breasts, garlic, kosher salt, ground allspice, lemon, olive oil.

Serves 6-8.


6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced, plus 4 cloves mashed (or from a jar)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil


Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Add remaining ingredients, and mix well (with your hands). Marinate, covered or in a zip-loc bag, in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours, or overnight.

Heat grill to high. Place chicken on skewers, or on a barbecue grid, and cook over direct heat for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently. Serve with rice or in pitas, with chopped iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Rhubarb-apricot chutney
Cocoa-cumin-allspice rub
Spice rub for chicken
Countertop dill pickles

Other recipes that use allspice:
Mulled wine, from Jane Spice
Allspice crumb muffins, from In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie
Quince paste with ginger, cinnamon and allspice, from Porcini Chronicles
Pumpkin bread, from Simply Recipes
Roast rack of lamb with allspice and balsamic glaze, from Kitchen Goddess

Garlic chicken on skewers, a Middle Eastern favorite, with lots of lemon and allspice.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


My family has always had allspice in the pantry for spice cakes and cookies. Recently I made a Rhubarb Spice Cake which included allspice. Delish!

Marcia, that sounds wonderful, especially to a non-baker like me. Please post your recipe!

Rhubarb Spice Cake
1 quart rhubarb, cut into 3/4 in pieces
1 1/4 c sugar
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c butter, room temp
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/8 ground nutmeg
2 T orange marmalade
1 egg
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/4 c milk
1/4 c. molasses
Preheat oven to 375. Place rhubarb in large mixing bowl. Add 3/4 c. sugar and mix to coat the rhubarb. Spoon this into ungreased 9X9X2 inch baking pan.
Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cream together butter, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and marmalade. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the egg and beat the mixture until it is well-blended. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk and molasses, blending well after each addition. Stir in walnuts. Spread batter over rhubarb. Bake about 35 minutes.
Serve warm.

MMM - you two are making me hungry!

What a great addition to your website. I don't have any recipes to share at the moment but you will bring up some staples that I'll be able to embroider on.

Pauline, I look forward to your embroidery!

I made the Shish Taouk recipe after hearing that it was the impetus for Lydia's food writing career. It was wonderful! The following are my (then) real-time experiences of the recipe:

- It is better to prepare the chicken "production-style": to trim and cut it. I first did it piece by piece, but then placed all the pieces horizontally and cut them that way. Doing it this way was more efficient, but more importantly let me maintain a consistency in the size of the pieces, so they'd all cook at the same time.
- Wondered why some cut garlic and some smashed. Would doing all one way make a difference?
- Ok to add more garlic? I doubled it and it was delicious. I always double the garlic.
- Did anyone ever use the pre-peeled garlic in a bag? I never have, but it looks ok in the store. Maybe a time saver or maybe flavor-less?
- Does anyone cut the little stem piece off the end of the garlic or is it not worth doing so?
- What if you can't marinate for 4+ hours? Do you try another recipe or settle for less flavor?
- Who needs a mushroom brush? I do, and used it, and it works. It's cute (as a button) too!
- Ok to grill on stove grill pan? I did and it worked out fine.

In all, an amazing recipe. Long live allspice.

Billie Jean, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! To answer your questions: (1) garlic has a more intense flavor when it's minced than when it's sliced, so the combination of two garlic types seems to give the flavor I remember from the restaurant. (2) Always OK to add more garlic! (3) My experience with pre-peeled garlic in a bag is mixed --when it's fresh, it's great, but it's often not fresh and already starting to sprout in the bag. (4) I always cut the stem off. (5) I've marinated for 2 hours and it works -- but like more garlic, more marinating for this recipe just makes it better.

Looking forward to more reports from the field -- thanks.

Loved this recipe. Absolutly Delish !! Loved the allspice ...never used it that much. Thanks for the new favorite.

Glad I found this. I have allspice in both whole and powdered forms. I need more uses for it, and this will do nicely. Currently, the powdered one I only use when I make swedish meatballs! Thanks for the tips.

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