The first time I was introduced to Mussakhan was an unforgettable experience. I was holding a cookery workshop for a charitable cause organized by the catholic organization for family and life affairs a few years ago. We had had a mix of German nationals and refugee families on the list of attendees. The objective was to introduce and bring together various cultures and ethnic groups.
A Palestinian family of three walked in the kitchen with a huge tray of crimson chicken on bread topped with pine nuts. They couldnt speak a word of German or English but only had a smile on the face that was enough to communicate what they wanted to convey. I was really impressed! They insisted us to sit on the floor, placed the tray in the middle and we all ate the super delicious meat with our hands. I found that so cool !!!!
This is what Mussakhan is all about! A sharing meal to connect friends and family, that is always to be eaten with hands keeping all the formalities aside.
What exactly is Mussakhan?
Mussakhan is a traditional Palestinian dish featuring cooked & roasted chicken with caramalized onions sprinkled generously with sumac. The meat pieces are laid out on a bed of taboon bread drenched with the flavorsome chicken stock. Toasted almonds or pine nuts on top add a beautiful crunch to the soft juicy bread base.
What type of meat to use?
Preferably chicken with bones. That has more flavour. You can leave the skin on but I prefer making with skinned chicken as the recipe has already enough fats.
What type of onions to use?
For the sumac onion layer, use the red ones. They not only go well with the sumac but also give a pleasant sweet flavour. Make sure not to chop or slice the onions too fine or they will get too soft while cooking and lose texture.
What type of bread to use?
Bread is the key player here. Traditionally, Mussakhan is made using Taboon bread that is usually baked in a very hot oven lined with small round smooth stones. If you can’t find taboon or laffa bread you can substitute with any flatbread you like, just make sure it is neither too thin nor too thick. Just thick enough to withstand holding the onions and chicken, and thin enough to absorb the chicken juices without making it too heavy for the stomach.
What to serve with?
Mussakhan is a complete meal in itself and is typically served as a main course with some fresh salad and yoghurt.
A step by step tutorial can be viewed in my Insta highlights. Do have a look before you start cooking.
If you have tried this recipe, I would love to see your feedback. Please click on the stars in the recipe card below to rate.
And if you take a photo of your Mussakhan, please tag me @chef_on_rhine and use the hashtag #chefonrhine because I love seeing your remakes!
Mussakhan- Sumac chicken on bread with caramalized onions
For the onions
- 4 medium red onions chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil + 2 tsp vegetable oil for the onions
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds extra
For the chicken
- 8 pieces chicken thighs and legs
- 1 medium white onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp cardamom powder freshly ground
- 3/4 tsp salt see note
- 1/4 tsp cloves powder
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp 7 spice Baharat
- 1/2 tsp curcuma
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp oil for chicken
- 1/4 cup Sumac
- 4 thin flatbread preferably taboon/laffa
- 1/4 cup blanched almonds or pine nuts fried in 2 tsp oil
- 2 Tbsp parsley optional
- Mix together all the spices listed under "for the chicken".
- Make slits in the meat and marinate with garlic, lemon juice and 2/3 of the spice blend. Put aside for 15 min.
Prepare the onions:
- Take ¼ cup olive oil + 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a pan and fry chopped onions on medium heat with ½ tsp cumin until translucent .This all can take up to 20 min. Add rest of the spices, 3 Tbsp sumac and mix well. Set aside.
Cook the chicken:
- In a big cooking pot, take oil and fry one chopped onion in it. Add cumin seeds as well as the marinated chicken. Mix well. Add one cup of water and cook until meat is tender. Adjust the seasoning.
Grill the chicken:
- Take out the chicken pieces in a baking tray and grill in oven for 10 min until golden.
Toast the almonds:
- Fry the almonds in oil until golden brown. Set aside
- Cut each bread in 4 or 6 slices. Line a big serving platter with some bread slices.
- Pour some chicken juice (left from cooking) on it.
- Spread with caramalized onions and sprinkle generously with sumac.
- Again place a layer of bread slices. Pour the juice and distribute onions.
- Carefully set the grilled chicken pieces on top and sprinkle generously with sumac.
- Decorate with almonds and parsley.
- Mussakhan is a family meal. Best enjoyed when eaten with hands!
- I prefer using skinned chicken as the recipe already uses enough fats.
- The selection of bread is very important. The commonly used flatbread for Mussakhan is called Taboon, named after the clay oven used to bake this in. You can substitute with any bread of the same thickness. I wouldnt recommend using pitas as they become too heavy and filling after being soaked in the chicken stock.
- Almonds can be replaced with pine nuts.
- Adjust the quantity of salt in chicken according to how salty the bread is.
- Prepare chicken, almonds and caramelized onions ahead of time but assemble shortly before serving.
- The basic recipe for 7 spices I use is: 1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper + 1 tablespoon paprika + 1 tablespoon ground cumin + 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon + 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg + 1 teaspoon ground coriander +1 teaspoon ground cloves +1 teaspoon ground cardamom = Mix together and store in a spice jar.