Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce (Copycat Recipe)

September 7, 2020
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Zankou Chicken is an extremely popular Armenian-owned fast casual restaurant chain in the greater Los Angeles area. Most notably they’re famous for their epic Zankou Chicken garlic sauce. The recipe is a guarded secret, but this easy copycat recipe is the next best thing!

closeup of creamy white Zankou Chicken garlic sauce in a white bowl with a spoon

Zankou Chicken is famous. It’s a landmark chain in Los Angeles with outstanding Middle Eastern cuisine to back up its reputation. Musician Beck even sang about Zankou Chicken in his song “Debra.” The well-known chain also has a tragic history, but through it all they serve up some of the best quick Middle Eastern fare around.

My first Zankou Chicken meal was in July 1999 during a visit to Los Angeles to see some family friends. I remember it well because it basically changed my life. Chicken would never taste the same to me without that incredibly pungent Zankou Chicken garlic sauce.

Years later I moved to Los Angeles and took advantage of the proximity to so many Zankou locations. The best chicken experience of my life was at my fingertips any time I wanted!

And then I moved back east again and my Zankou Chicken dreams went down the drain. Wah wah. I had to resort to smuggling garlic sauce in my luggage after visits to LA. It’s just not the same.

overhead view of garlic sauce in a white bowl next to chicken, lemon, and garlic

You’re probably wondering how spit-roasted chicken can be so exciting, but let me tell you it’s not the chicken but the Armenian garlic sauce that put Zankou on the map. Yes, their chicken, shawarma, and other Middle Eastern delights are wonderful, but it’s the garlic sauce people crave.

Toum is actually a Lebanese garlic sauce found in many Middle Eastern restaurants, often accompanying shawarma. It’s basically a super intense garlic mayonnaise made with garlic, lemon juice, oil, and salt. It’s like an eggless garlic mayo but with brightness and complexity from the addition of lemon juice. It also typically contains a lot of oil to help it get so thick.

Toum isn’t shocking revelation. You can find a version of it on Halal carts in NYC, and in various Middle Eastern restaurants. But what makes Zankou so special?

creamy Armenian garlic sauce in a white bowl with lemon and chicken in the background

Unlocking Zankou’s secrets

This Armenian garlic paste is based on traditional toum, but it has a secret ingredient. My garlic sauce-loving forefathers at Chowhound already did some of the hard work figuring it out.

Surprise! It’s potato. How do we know? Well, supposedly if you take some Zankou Chicken garlic paste and cook it in a pan, it will make a pancake. I haven’t tried this test since I now live 3,000+ miles away, but I will take their word for it. From this you can deduce that it contains a type of starch, and the likely culprit is potato.

Some recipes call for a specific number of russet potatoes. But potatoes come in all shapes and sizes, so this isn’t a great way to gauge how much you need for a successful recipe that can be replicated. I want everyone who tries this recipe to yield the same exact result, one that matches the garlic paste at Zankou as best as possible.

Other recipes use instant mashed potatoes, but I never buy that for my personal use so it doesn’t make sense to buy it just for this. We’ll stick with the humble russet potato for our version.

I decided to cook the potato and then measure out how much goes into the sauce, rather than saying a certain number of potatoes.

But how exactly do you use the potato? I tested out the recipe a few times. The first time I mashed the potato with a potato masher and whisked it in. The result was a tad lumpy. Not the smoother texture you get at Zankou.

Next, I used a food mill to basically rice my cooked potato and then stir it in, thinking this would dissolve the potato more. It still wasn’t perfect. It had a texture to it like fine grains of rice throughout the sauce.

The solution! Blend it in the blender on the highest setting. I had avoided adding my potato to the blender because I was worried the starch would make it gummy. Fortunately, this didn’t happen. My copycat Zankou Chicken garlic sauce turned out smooth, and the flavor is spot on! And as a bonus, it uses a lot less oil than traditional toum recipes.

overhead closeup of creamy white garlic sauce in a white bowl with a spoon

How to make it

In the jar of a blender add garlic cloves from a large head of garlic (aim for about 14 large cloves or 3 1/2 ounces garlic cloves if you weigh them). Err on the side of more garlic! If your head of garlic is on the smaller side, just throw in a few extra cloves from another head of garlic.

Add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (PHOTO 1). Cover with the lid and puree on the highest setting.

Scrape down the sides and replace the lid, opening the small hole on top. Use a paper towel to cover the hole a bit so it doesn’t splatter everywhere. With the blender running on the highest setting, slowly pour in 1/2 cup vegetable oil. When all the oil is in, turn off the blender and scrape down the sides (PHOTO 2).

You can technically enjoy the sauce at this stage. This is essentially a thinner version of toum (Lebanese garlic sauce). It’s thick but pourable, and super garlicky. But we are taking it to the next level to fulfill our Zankou fantasies.

You need about 1 cup of cooked potato that has been put through a ricer or food mill (measure it AFTER you rice it). Technically you could mash it too, but it will do a better job getting the potato super fine if you do it this way. If you have a digital scale, it should be somewhere between 4 and 4 1/4 ounces of cooked, riced potato.

If you are using mashed potato instead of riced potato, the potato will be a bit more compacted from the mashing process, and you may want to start with less than 1 cup (or simply weigh it like I suggest) and then add more if you feel the need.

Add the riced potato to your blender and puree on the highest setting. Stop, scrape, and blend again until it’s very smooth. It shouldn’t take long at all (PHOTOS 3-4).

step by step photos of blending Zankou Chicken garlic sauce

Transfer the garlic sauce to a container, cover and refrigerate for a few hours but overnight is best. It really benefits from having some time for the flavors to meld and mellow. Afterwards, taste it and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Voilà! Now you can make Zankou Chicken garlic sauce no matter where in the world you live!

Ways to use it

You can enjoy this Armenian garlic sauce in countless ways. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Rotisserie chicken (store-bought is totally fine!) or roasted chicken
  • Chicken or beef shawarma (basically Heaven on Earth)
  • Roasted or grilled meats (like pork, beef, or lamb–kebabs are a great idea here)
  • Falafel (but of course!)
  • Spread it onto sandwiches in place of mayonnaise
  • Add it to rice bowls to bump up the flavor
  • Dip your french fries in it
  • Use it in pasta, potato, and chicken salads as some of your “dressing” for a garlicky punch (thin it out with some plain mayo perhaps)
overhead view of a bowl of garlic sauce, head of garlic, rotisserie chicken, and lemon

Other recipes you may like

Are you as Zankou obsessed as I am? Ever dreamed of your own personal supply of that addictive Armenian garlic paste? Well, I’m super excited that this copycat recipe is spot on! It’s also gluten-free, dairy-free, and eggless.

If you have never had this famous garlicky condiment before, then I especially want to hear from you if you try this recipe! Leave me a comment below letting me know what you think.

closeup of creamy white Zankou Chicken garlic sauce in a white bowl with a spoon

Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce (Copycat Recipe)

Victoria
Zankou Chicken is an extremely popular Armenian-owned fast casual restaurant chain in the greater Los Angeles area. Most notably they are famous for their epic Zankou Chicken garlic sauce. The recipe is a guarded secret, but this easy copycat recipe is the next best thing!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Sauces
Cuisine Armenian, Lebanese, Middle Eastern
Servings 12 (2 tablespoon) or 24 (1 tablespoon) servings
Calories 51 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large head garlic, peeled (about 14 large cloves or 3.5 to 3.75 ounces after peeling)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
  • About 4 to 4.25 ounces cooked russet potato, processed through a potato ricer or food mill to yield about 1 cup

Instructions
 

  • Add garlic cloves, salt, and lemon juice to the jar of a blender. Cover with the lid and puree on the highest setting. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides.
  • Open the small hole on the blender lid and cover it with a paper towel to keep it from splattering everywhere. Turn the blender back on to the highest setting and slowly pour in the oil. When you've added all the oil, turn off the blender, remove the lid and scrape down the sides again. You should have a creamy white mixture.
  • Add 1 cup of riced/food milled cooked russet potato to the blender jar, and process on high. Turn off the blender, scrape down the sides once more, and process again until smooth. The mixture should be relatively thick.
  • Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours but preferably overnight. The flavor and texture will change slightly as it rests. It should taste less potatoey the next day. Adjust the seasoning with more salt if needed.

Notes & Nutrition

  • If you don’t have a food mill or potato ricer you can mash the potato instead before putting it in the blender, but you are likely to have a smoother sauce without having to over-blend the mixture if you use riced potato instead. Also mashing will compact the potatoes so you will have more potato in 1 cup than if you riced it (weighting on a digital scale is always your best bet). Start by adding a bit less mashed potato (maybe 3/4 cup) and then check the texture before adding more.
  • Here are some serving suggestions for your sauce:
    • Rotisserie chicken (store-bought is totally fine!) or roasted chicken
    • Chicken or beef shawarma
    • Roasted or grilled meats (like pork, beef, or lamb)
    • Falafel
    • Spread it onto sandwiches in place of mayonnaise
    • Add it to rice bowls to bump up the flavor
    • Dip your french fries in it
    • Use it in pasta, potato, and chicken salads as some of your “dressing” (thin it out with some plain mayo perhaps)
  • This recipe uses kosher salt (aka cooking salt, kitchen salt, coarse salt outside of the US). If you are using table salt, definitely scale down the salt as that is a saltier type of salt! The type of salt will make a big difference in how salty your food tastes, so keep that in mind 🙂 You can always add more later.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Servings 12.0 (2 tablespoons each) * calories 103 * Total Fat 10 g * Saturated Fat 1 g * Monounsaturated Fat 2 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 6 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 0 mg * Sodium 143 mg * Potassium 85 mg * Total Carbohydrate 5 g * Dietary Fiber 0 g * Sugars 0 g * Protein 1 g
Servings 24.0 (1 tablespoon each) * calories 51 * Total Fat 5 g * Saturated Fat 1 g * Monounsaturated Fat 1 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 3 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 0 mg * Sodium 72 mg * Potassium 43 mg * Total Carbohydrate 2 g * Dietary Fiber 0 g * Sugars 0 g * Protein 0 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Teri-Anne Glynn
    September 10, 2020 at 11:50 am

    5 stars
    Made the sauce today, doubled the volume, used both smoked and natural garlic, used smoked sea salt flakes and had it atop marinated roast lamb with pita pockets- winner! My son had already had his lunch but had to try mine lol, guess what he is planning on having for dinner?? Lol. Am taking some sauce to my garlic loving friend as well. Thanks for the recipe.

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