Mussakhan (Palestinian Chicken With Sumac)

Muzna Bishara

1 hour 15 minutes

Serves 6

Mussakhan 1
Mussakhan. Photo by Matan Choufan

Mussakhan, a Palestinian dish of roasted chicken with sumac, is probably the recipe most associated with the olive harvest. Its heavy reliance on olive oil makes it a perfect way to celebrate the new harvest and the first of the season oil. It’s prepared across Palestine and traditionally served in large portions for family and friends.

The word mussakhan means “reheated,” the chicken is first poached in seasoned oil, then roasted in the oven over a wide flatbread. In the Galilee, however, the dish is known as muhammar, meaning “browned”, referring to the roasting of the chicken. Like any other traditional recipe, there are many different preparation methods for this dish. The following recipe is my family’s version, which I find the most simple and delicious.

It is best served with chilled yogurt, fresh and pickled vegetables, olives and greens such as watercress. Mussakhan is eaten by hand; everyone tears some of the flatbread, using it to spoon the chicken and toppings. For crispier flatbreads, lightly toast them in the oven. I use any remaining cooking liquids and oil to enhance the flavors of stocks and stews, or for the next time I prepare mussakhan — simply strain and freeze.

Ingredients

  • 1¾ cup olive oil
  • 8 onions, sliced
  • 4 ½ lb / 2 kg chicken thighs or drumsticks 
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons baharat spice mix
  • 3 teaspoons sumac
  • To serve:
  • 4 taboon flatbreads
  • Pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
  • Olives (optional)
  • Watercress leaves (optional)

Preparation

  1. Heat ½ cup olive oil in a wide, deep pan. Add 3 sliced ​​onions and cook over a high heat for 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.Grease the pan with a little olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, mix ¼ cup olive oil, chicken, salt, pepper, baharat and sumac in a bowl. Add that to the onions, arrange in an even layer, cover and cook over a medium-low heat for 30 minutes. The chicken should be immersed in oil, if needed, add more olive oil. Occasionally check to see that the chicken is not drying out or sticking to the bottom of the pot. If needed, add 1 cup of water to the pan (there should be liquid remaining in the pan, to be used later for soaking the flatbreads).
  3. Lightly salt the remaining sliced onions and transfer to a separate pan. Pour in the remaining olive oil, cover and cook over a medium-low heat for 20 minutes, only until softened and transparent, but not fried. Add to the chicken pan, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Taste the cooking sauce and season with salt if necessary (the sauce should be salty).
  4. Preheat the oven on the grill setting to 400°F / 200°C. (If your oven doesn’t have a grill setting, turn the temperature to the highest your oven allows). 
  5. Separate the cooking sauce from the chicken and softened onions and transfer to a bowl. Fold a flatbread into quarters and dip it in the cooking liquid. Lay it open on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Spread a quarter of the onions on the flatbread and arrange the chicken pieces on top. Brown them in the oven for about 8 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is in the oven, arrange the remaining flatbreads on a large serving tray: dip them in the cooking liquid, spread a quarter of the onions on top and sprinkle with sumac. Repeat this with the remaining 2 flatbreads, forming a stack of 3 flatbreads.
  7. Assemble and serve: Remove the flatbread with the chicken from the oven and place over the flatbreads stack. Sprinkle the toasted almond on top and serve with olives and watercress (optional).

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