Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stuffed Chicken, or Djaj Mahshi

Do you have something to celebrate? A new bride in the family? A new mother? The fact that it is Saturday? 

Stuffed chicken is a Palestinian celebratory meal, served particularly to new mothers. Traditionally, a new mother would spend a month at home and in bed, caring for her newborn, while her mother-in-law would take over all household chores, including cooking and preparing delicacies for the new mother. Pregnancy, labor, delivery, the early days of breastfeeding - new mothers' bodies have given so much that they should in turn be given the most nourishing foods possible. This tender roasted chicken is stuffed with buttery pine nuts, spiced rice and ground meat. Served with a bowl of tart plain yogurt, a chopped salad and some Arabic bread, this makes for a meal designed to heal and build up a mother's body.

The quality of the chicken matters. When my mother comes to America, she laughs at the plump chickens in the grocery store. Is this a chicken or a turkey? What did they do to these breasts? I have never seen a chicken like this. She mockingly staggers as she picks one up.

I have come to see her point. The chickens I grew up eating were smaller, and also tasted well, more like chicken. More flavorful than the chicken-flavored-cardboard that I had been cooking since I had moved to the States.

I back away from the boob-job chickens.

I pick up an organic, free-range chicken. When on sale, I really enjoy kosher organic chickens. They are so tender that they melt in your mouth and my children adore them. The higher price tag gives me pause until I realize that if I make enough bone broth from the chicken bones, I will actually recoup the cost of the chicken entirely. And because they are pastured birds, they absorb the macro nutrients of the foods they eat, and pass those on to me. These birds fit into our moral framework, too, which I was grateful for tonight when my daughter asked me what the difference was between the chicken that we eat and the chickens that she has seen at farms. When I gently explained that they are one and the same, I was glad to be able to explain that this bird had had a long happy life and just one bad day.


Djaj Mahshi

1 whole chicken, pastured preferred

Rice and Meat Stuffing:
(Enough for extra to cook on the stove top or to stuff two chickens)

1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup rice, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon butter
1 3/4 cups chicken stock or water
1/2 lb ground lamb or beef
Salt and pepper
All spice
1/2 cup pine nuts

Chicken Rub:
1 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons yogurt
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
1 tsp Middle Eastern chicken seasoning, or all spice
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper

1. Saute the diced onion in olive oil until translucent. Add rice and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add chicken broth or water, 1 1/2 tsp salt and pepper, 1 tsp all spice, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then simmer until becoming tender, but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

2. Brown the meat, breaking up into small pieces with your spatula. Season with salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp all spice, and little cinnamon.

3. Saute the pine nuts in a tablespoon of butter, over low heat, stirring carefully and watching. They burn very easily.

4. In a bowl, combine the rice, meat, pine nuts and onions. Check seasonings.

5. Wash the chicken and pat dry inside and out and set it into a shallow roasting pan.

6. Divide the rice into two separate bowls, to prevent contamination. Reserve one bowl to serve with the chicken. Spoon stuffing from the other bowl into the cavity of the chicken, fitting as much as you can. Using toothpicks, secure the opening to the cavity as best as you can. If you prefer, you can sew the cavity closed.

7. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, yogurt and pomegranate molasses. Rub into the chicken breast. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally. Place some pats of butter under the breast skin, and rub a little more onto the chicken skin.

8. For a tender bird, slow roast the chicken using this method. Preheat oven to 300 F and roast the chicken. Roast until the chicken reaches 160 F, then turn the oven up to 375 F, baste the chicken with its juices and roast until the chicken's internal temperature reaches 180 F. This should take a total of two and a half to three hours, depending on the size of the chicken.

9. Cover with foil and let the chicken rest for five to ten minutes, for its juices to redistribute.

10. To make the most flavorful rice, pour some of the chicken drippings from the roast pan into the reserved rice stuffing and stir it in. Then try not to eat it all on the spot.

*You can purchase pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern grocers, large grocery stores, or you can make it yourself.   See recipe. 


  1. This recipe looks so delicious, can't wait to try it! I had a little trouble understanding what you put into the cavity of the chicken though. Is it the cooked spiced rice? I can't imagine leaving that in the oven for 3 hours, won't it become mushy?

  2. We hope to make this with a local one day!! Looks and sounds amazing! Great description and story!

  3. I love all your recipes and all your stories. As a proud Palestinian - Colombian reading your blog takes me back to my childhood with my family members in Jordan... I have never been to Palestine yet but Inshallah will go soon.... keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your food, recipes, stories and memories! God bless

  4. Thank you for this recipe ..long live Palestine from all of Egypt

  5. Hello, I made this dish yesterday and it was nothing like the same dinner had with a Palestinian family on a recent trip to the holy land. I used brown basmati rice and it did not absorb all the chicken stock I used in the pan with the onions. The chicken was overcooked. After 1 1/2 hours it reached 160 degrees at 350 but nearly burned for the next 1 1/2 hours
    at 375.I made the pomegranate molasses from scratch. Please help, I loved this dish in Bethlehem! I did use an organic free range chicken and yes, infinitely more expensive than our american fat chickens! Debbie

  6. Jessica, please reply to my comment above. Debbie

  7. Just made this recipe!! Can’t wait to bite into it! The stuffing mixture was AMAZING!! I used couscous instead of rice, but looks delicious and smells great!

    1. Just ate some—fabulous! Also, didn’t have pomegranate molasses, so I just used ol regular molasses! It tasted just like mamas did, maybe even better. 😉👍🏼

  8. Amazing recipe, seeing this recipe, I think that you have prepared it after working very hard, its test is really very good, you have done very good cooking curry.
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Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!