Musakhan or mussakhan is a sumac roasted chicken recipe originating from Palestine, and is commonly served all over the Levant region. Made with sumac, baharat, onions, lemon, pine nuts, and flatbread, it's a great dinner recipe.
This recipe uses good simple ingredients that aren't hard to fine. If you can't get the spices at your local supermarket, try a Middle Eastern grocer or order them online.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Chicken: instead of a whole chicken, you can use six boneless or bone-in thighs or breasts. Bone-in will make for juicier chicken.
- Red onion: Vidalia (sweet) onion or white onion can be used instead.
- Pine nuts: almonds make a good substitution for pine nuts. Slivered almonds are ideal.
- Flatbread: naan is great, and use taboon if it's available. Greek pita can be used in a pinch.
How to Make Palestinian Chicken
The pine nuts are toasted and onions are cooked while the chicken is in the oven, so this is a pretty easy multi-tasking recipe.
1. Prepare the chicken: season the chicken and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until it reaches temperature. While the chicken is in the oven, prepare the other elements.
2. Toast pine nuts: add the nuts to a pan with olive oil and toast for 2-3 minutes.
3. Sauté onions: cook the onions in olive oil for 15-20 minutes, season with salt, sumac, and baharat, and set aside.
4. Toast flatbread: broil the flatbreads in the oven for a couple minutes. They should be warm and lightly golden but not too dark.
5. Assemble: divide the onion mixture equally over the flatbreads and top with the chicken, pine nuts, and some parsley.
6. Serve: plate with a side salad if you'd like, and serve. Don't forget the lemons.
Make Ahead, Storage, Freezing
Make Ahead: the chicken can be cut into pieces and coated with the spice mixture the day before you plan on cooking it. Cover well and refrigerate overnight, then cook as instructed.
Storage: leftover chicken, cooled fully, can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Store it without the flatbread, but onions and lemon are fine.
Freezing: remove the chicken from the bones and place in an airtight container (the bones can be used to make a good stock). Freeze for up to four months.
About the Spices
While the main spice used is sumac, baharat or 7-spice is used in a smaller quantity too. This gives a warmer flavor that's still bright and punchy thanks to citrusy sumac.
Sumac: a slightly tart and citrus-like red berry that's dried and typically sold in its ground form, sumac is commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking. Sumac isn't sour, and it's a good addition to lots of recipes, especially chicken.
7-Spice: also called baharat, this is a Levantine spice blend, usually consisting of a blend of coriander, allspice, cumin, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. If you can't get it or don't have everything to make your own, substitute equal parts cumin, coriander, cinnamon in this recipe. If you like this spice combination, you must try my Maqluba (upside down chicken and rice) or Maftoul (Palestinian Couscous).
Sumac and baharat chicken makes a fantastic weeknight dinner, with everything coming together in under an hour. This recipe will turn out perfectly every time with these tips.
- Cook the onions down: while the cooking time for the onions might seem long, keep in mind that you're using two large onions and it takes a while with more in the pan. Caramelizing onions takes at least an hour so there's no risk of that here.
- Move the pan around: the pine nuts will burn if they're not moving constantly, and the easiest way to do this is to hold onto the handle and swirl the pan so that the nuts shake and turn.
- Get help cutting the chicken: if you want to use a whole chicken for this recipe but don't feel confident enough to cut it at home, ask at the butcher or meat counter, and they'll cut it into the number of pieces needed when you buy it.
Taboon is a traditional Levantine flatbread named after the clay oven it's baked in.
While both are red in color, they're about as different as spices can be. Sumac is tart, slightly floral, and not spicy at all.
Most of the time, chicken is good to roast uncovered, and it will make the skin crispier and nicer to eat. The chicken isn't covered for this recipe.
More Delicious Dinners
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Musakhan (Sumac Chicken with Onions)
- 1 Whole chicken - Cut into 6-8 pieces
- ½ cup Extra virgin olive oil - Divided
- 1 Lemon - Cut in half
- 3 tablespoon Sumac - Divided
- 3 teaspoon 7-Spice - Divided (see note)
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- ¼ cup Pine nuts
- 2 Red onions (large) - or use 3 medium-sized red onions
- 3-6 Flatbread - Naan, Taboon or Greek Pita
- 2 tablespoon Parsley, chopped
- Prepare the chicken. Preheat your oven to 375F. Season the chicken with 2 tablespoon olive oil, 1 ½ tablespoon sumac, 2 teaspoon bharat, kosher salt and black pepper. Arrange the chicken pieces on a parchment-lined baking tray or in a braiser. Add 2 lemon halves (they will bake alongside the chicken and caramelize). Bake for 30-45 minutes. Depending on how large your chicken pieces are, you may need more or less time. Chicken is ready when the internal temperature is at least 175F.
- Toast the pine nuts. While the chicken is baking, toast the pine nuts. To a small pan, add 2 tablespoon of olive oil and pine nuts. Toast on medium heat, swirling the pan constantly, for 2-3 minutes. The pine nuts should be golden brown. Be careful, they can burn quickly. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- Saute the onions. To a large frying pan, add 2-3 tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions. Season with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Cook on medium heat until the onions have softened, for about 15-20 minutes. We don't want the onions to caramelize. Add 1 ½ tablespoon sumac and 1 teaspoon bharat to the onion mixture. Saute for another 5 minutes until fragrant. Set aside.
- Toast the flatbread. Place the flatbreads on a large baking sheet and broil in the oven for 3-4 minutes. You're looking to warm through and toast the flatbreads slightly, so they shouldn't take on too much color.
- Assemble. Divide the onion mixture equally over the flatbreads and top with the cooked chicken pieces (you can keep the chicken pieces whole or shred them). Garnish with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley.
- Serve. Serve the roasted chicken over the flatbread with a side of salad. Don't forget the caramelized lemons, they will add a nice tang to the dish.