Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Musakhan: Roasted Chicken with Carmelized Onions and Olive-Oil Drenched Bread

Put away your forks and knives, friends.  This is finger food. 

Now, this is a favorite Palestinian feast.  Tender chicken pieces, seasoned with lemony sumac, roasted with loads of sweet caramelized onions and olive oil, baked onto soft bread that absorbs the juices of the chicken, and topped with buttery pine nuts . . . I think of it as the Palestinian version of fried chicken, because of the generous amounts of olive oil used here, which soak into everything and transform a simple chicken and onion dish into a rich, melt-in-your-mouth experience.  Plus, this meal is traditionally eaten with your hands. 

A popular traditional dish, this meal is something that you would serve guests, or you might serve your family on a birthday.  In Palestine, chicken is not as costly as beef, but dressed up with more luxurious ingredients--pine nuts and generous amounts of olive oil--elevates this  to company food.   Eaten enthusiastically by all, I am sure that you will find this dish happy in your home. 

Musakhan (mu-SA-khan) is traditionally made with taboon bread, an ancient flat bread made in the taboon ovens.  Since ancient times, Palestinians have used this cone-shape ovens, with a hold in the bottom for stoking a fire, gathering around communal taboons to bake their breads.  This bread is similar to naan - flat, pocketless, charred in places, and slightly chewy.  You can use naan or another flat bread, or make your own stove-top sourdough flat bread.  Your bread should just be thick enough to hold up to the chicken and onions on top.

Sakhan is the Arabic word for hot, so musakhan (mu-SA-khan) means something that has been heated. I believe that traditionally the chicken in this dish was probably boiled and then reheated and browned in the taboon.  While the ingredients never change, there are many regional variations on how to prepare this dish. In the Galilee, where my mother is from, this dish is prepared with raw chicken baked on top of cooked bread, with the onions poured over the chicken.  In Bethlehem, where my parents live now, this dish is more typically prepared by cooking the chicken, bread and onions separately and then assembling it and reheating it before serving.  I have included my mother's recipe, but you can prepare it any way you like. 

Lemony sumac is the star seasoning here, and is used on the onions.  You can season the chicken any way your like, but I have included a classic seasoning blend for you to try.  You can buy sumac online or at a Middle Eastern grocery store.  If you cannot find it, you can substitute a little paprika and a squeeze of lemon juice. 


5 very large white onions, large dice
1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup ground sumac
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1 chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt

5-6 loaves of bread, plus more for the meal
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp minced parsley

1.  Over medium high heat, saute onions in the olive oil until deep golden brown and sweet.  This takes between 30-40 minutes, with occasional stirring.  Then add in sumac, salt and pepper.

2.  Wash chicken and pat dry.  Season with allspice, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, coriander and salt. 

3.  In a large baking dish, spread loaves evenly.  Spoon half of the onion mixture over the bread.  Arrange chicken pieces on top, and spoon the remaining onions on top. 

4.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about one and a half hours, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Garnish with parsley and toasted pine nuts. 

Serve with bowls of plain, whole yogurt, salads, and additional bread. 

May this dish double your health. 

Shared at Party Wave Wednesday, Real Food WednesdayThank Your Body Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, Tasty Traditions, Fat Tuesday, and Traditional Tuesday.


  1. Thank you for posting the recipe! I have been dreaming of this dish that I used to eat as a child in the restaurants in Jericho. It sounded closest to what I remembered. I made it tonight and although it was delicious and had the taste I remembered I must have done something wrong. I used flatbread and baked the Mushakan in convection mode for 1 hour 20 minutes. The flatbread burnt completely at the bottom and was hard and some of the onions also burnt (the chicken was fabulous). What can I do to avoid this next time? Do you think Naan bread would work better or can you recommend something else? Not use convection? Should I have oiled the pan or maybe wet the bread?

    1. Maybe this recipe will work better for you: http://bintrhodaskitchen.blogspot.com/2015/05/chicken-sumac-and-onion-flatbread-or.html


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