My sister is here visiting and requested that I make Musakhan. My brother frequently asks me to make it as well. In fact, if he is here, I don’t bother asking him what he would like me to make, since the answer is invariably Musakhan. It is a favorite of friends and family, for sure.
Musakhan, literally meaning “heated”, is a traditional Palestinian chicken dish, making use of the abundance of the excellent local olive oil. Sumac, not to be confused with poison sumac, grows wild in the region as well. It offers a wonderful tang and pretty purplish color to whatever you add it to.
This is not a low-fat meal, but there are variations to make it lower-fat, though really, that would be a shame
You can use as much bread as you like, but a good rule of thumb is at least one salad plate sized piece per chicken piece. Think of picking up a piece of bread with the onions and chicken on top, like a little chicken package. You might find that you want to add more bread, because people love the crispy bread that has soaked up all the lovely olive oil, onion, and chicken flavors.
A tip is to add layer of foil before putting the bread, to make sure that the bread doesn’t stick to the tray.
As with many traditional recipes, there are as many ways to make this as there are cooks. Some wrap the chicken and onions in shrak (very thin flatbread), some add a layer of meat under the chicken, etc, etc. This is my preferred method.
6 bone-in chicken quarters
juice of one lemon
Seasoning 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of: paprika, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg, cumin, sumac
salt and pepper to taste
4 onions, halved and sliced or chopped
1/2-3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3-4 tablespoons sumac
6 Pita or flatbread rounds
toasted pine nuts (optional)
Season chicken with lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cooking oil, spices, 1 teaspoon sumac, garlic, and a quarter onion, (sliced or chopped, as the rest).
Optional steps: Allow to marinate for an hour. Place chicken and all seasoning ingredients in a large pot. Brown over medium-high heat, stirring to keep from sticking or burning. Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing to cook 10 -15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425. Put chicken and seasonings (including liquids) in a baking dish. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, till completely cooked.
Meanwhile, put onions and olive oil in a deep skillet. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-high heat till onions soft, about 10 minutes, taking care not to let the oil get hot enough to start smoking.
Add sumac, and cook for a couple of minutes more. Remove from heat.
Once chicken is completely cooked, layer bread at the bottom of a baking dish large enough to fit all the chicken in single layer. Spread onions on top of the bread, including the olive oil. Place chicken pieces on top. Finally, if there are any pan juices left in the tray the chicken was originally baked in, pour it over the entire thing. Sprinkle additional sumac on top – about a teaspoon or two.
Return to oven and bake 10-15 more minutes.
Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts, if using. Serve with yogurt and salad.
Lower fat variation: Reduce the olive oil to 1/4 cup, and saute until onions soft, not caramelized. Put 2 cups of chicken broth in a bowl. Briefly dip each piece of bread in the chicken broth and place in baking tray; alternatively, you can use a pastry brush and brush both sides of the bread with chicken broth. You just want to soften the bread a bit, not completely wet it. Add onions, and continue as in the original recipe.
Sumac free variation: If you cannot find sumac, you can double the lemon juice and omit the sumac. It won’t be the same, but you’ll still get a yummy chicken dish.