Musakhan chicken is one of the most popular dishes in Palestine. It is typically roast chicken marinated in sumac and other spices, served with caramelised onions and flat bread, then topped with toasted pine nuts. Serve it with a good dollop of watercress tzatziki which brings a fresh note to this dish.
What is Sumac
Sumac is a spice that is widely used in middle-Eastern cuisine. It is typically dried berries from the sumac plant that have been ground. It is distinguished by its red colour and tangy, slightly acidic taste. Sumac can be used in a variety of dishes ranging from salads, meats or even desserts.
Musakhan is basically roast chicken, and this dish is exactly what it is. The chicken is roasted with sumac, cumin, cinnamon and five spice, and served with flat bread and sumac-flavoured caramelised onions. It is a sharing dish that brings people together at the dinner table and tucking into the main platter. I made this dish after the third lockdown when people were allowed to meet up indoors. My family whom I had not seen in months loved the idea of sharing a meal this way and we all enjoyed this super flavourful Palestinian Musakhan dish.
What ingredients you need for the Musakhan
- Chicken: You can use a whole chicken and cut it into pieces, or you can use chicken thighs. You need the skin on the chicken as it stops it from drying out when roasting.
- Sumac: This is the main spice that makes this dish. You can find it in almost all supermarkets, or in shops selling asian food.
- Spices: Cinnamon, cumin and all spice add some warmth and a spicy note to the dish.
- Onions: Use red onions – it caramelises well but also brings a purply red colour to the entire dish.
- Pine nuts: Toasted in olive oil, pine nuts bring extra texture to the Musakhan as well as a nutty flavour.
- Olive oil: This dish was traditionally made when olives were harvested to make oil. Use extra virgin olive oil for that perfect olive flavour.
Best tips and tricks for making chicken Musakhan
Start by getting the chicken and all your spices ready beforehand. If using chicken thighs trim the fat and discard it. You only need the skin on top to keep the chicken moist while in the oven. Marinate the chicken using the spices and season well. You can either do this in advance and keep in the fridge, or you can roast the chicken straight away if you are time-conscious. While the chicken is roasting toast the pine nuts in olive oil, stirring continuously until they turn slightly brown. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. In the same pan fry the onions in olive oil. You will need enough olive oil for the onions to sweat and soften. As soon as they are cooked add the cumin and sumac, season with salt and turn off the heat. Adding the spices at the end will stop them from burning. 5 minutes before the chicken is cooked tear the naan bread and place it on a baking tray, with a sprinkle of water. Heat it up in the oven along with the chicken. When the chicken is cooked, with a crispy golden skin on top, transfer it to a plate and get ready to assemble the dish. Use a large platter and place the naan bread. Drizzle the juices of the roast chicken over the naan and scatter the caramelised onions. Place the roast chicken and sprinkle the pine nuts on top. Add a good dollop of the tzatziki and enjoy!
How to make Watercress Tzatziki
Watercress tzatziki is a refreshing sauce made with yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Watercress is in season and I have decided to add finely chopped watercress and diced cucumber which are both mild in taste and do not overpower the tzatziki. It goes perfectly well dolloped onto the spicy chicken musakhan. Making the tzatziki is very simple. All you need to do is mix all the ingredients in a bowl and finish with a good drizzle of lemon or lime juice and a little olive oil on top. It can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- 1 kg chicken thighs, skin on
- 4 medium onions, finely sliced
- 3 heaped tbsp sumac
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp five spice
- 100ml olive oil
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 4 naan breads
- 150g natural yoghurt
- squeeze of half a lime juice
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 50g watercress, finely chopped
- 40g cucumber, diced
- 5 mint leaves, finely chopped
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Marinate chicken: Preheat the oven to 200C. Prepare the chicken thighs by trimming off the excess fat, and leaving most of the skin on. Place in a large bowl and add 2 tbsp sumac, 1/2 tsp cumin, the cinnamon powder, the five spice, salt, pepper and 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix well until well coated.
- Roast: Place the chicken slices in a roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes until cooked.
- Fry onions: Meanwhile fry the sliced onions. In a frying pan add the oil and toss the onions in. Fry until the onions are soft and caramelised. Add the rest of the sumac and cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Make the tzatziki: In a bowl combine all the tzatziki ingredients and chill until ready to serve.
- Heat the naan breads: Tear each naan bread into 4 pieces and heat in the oven for 4-5 minutes.
- Assemble: When the chicken is cooked leave to rest on a plate and do not discard the juices from the tray. Use a sharing dish to assemble the Musakhan. Place the naan breads at the bottom of the dish and drizzle the roasting juices over the bread. Scatter the caramelised onions and place the roast chicken pieces on top. Serve immediately with a good dollop of the watercress tzatziki.