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Middle Eastern food has become a huge food trend over the past decade. And for good reason. It’s extremely delicious, and surprisingly easy to make.
Sumac chicken (also known as musakhan) is a wonderful example of that. Musakhan is basically roasted sumac chicken with fried onions served over bread. The recipe originated in Palestine and has found its way onto the plates of the world.
Let me show you what makes musakhan unique and how to make sumac chicken at home with ingredients that you can easily find beyond the Middle East.
What is Musakhan?
Musakhan is a simple dish of sumac roasted chicken served with slow-fried onions and traditionally served over taboon bread. The key ingredient to musakhan is sumac which gives the unique flavor and reddish color to the dish. A handful of warm spices and olive oil complement the flavors.
Palestinian or Jordanian Chicken?
I often get the question whether musakhan is Jordanian chicken. Let me explain this briefly. Musakhan is originally Palestinian. It’s even the national dish of Palestine!
Sumac chicken (musakhan) is also hugely popular in Jordan – and other Arab countries. The main reason for this is because a large part of the Jordanian population has Palestinian roots. If there’s one thing people are proud of is their roots and culture. And food plays a major role in culture.
That said, musakhan is a traditional Palestinian dish, despite its popularity in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East.
Ingredients for Musakhan
To make musakhan or sumac chicken, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Chicken: Bone-in skin on chicken legs are traditionally used to make musakhan. If you can’t find them, you can also use chicken thighs or drumsticks. Whole chicken legs basically means chicken thigh + drumstick in one piece.
- Onions: Yellow onions are most commonly used in sumac chicken. You can also use red onions to intensify the red color of your dish.
- Sumac: The key ingredient for musakhan is sumac, a Middle Eastern spice which does not only define the taste, but also the reddish color of the dish.
- Seven Spice: A Middle Eastern spice blend which is made of seven common Middle Eastern spices.
- Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil is the best type of olive oil.
- Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed is best. Bottled lemon juice will also work.
- Pine nuts: Toasted pine nuts level up this recipe. Almonds are a suitable alternative if you don’t have pine nuts.
- Salt to taste
- Parsley: Chopped parsley is used for garnish (optionally)
- Bread: Musakhan usually consists of tannour bread (also known as taboon bread), which is similar to Indian naan bread. You can use pita bread instead.
I’ve changed this recipe slightly to make it easier for you to get all the ingredients if you live outside of the Middle East. I’m using pita bread instead of taboun bread, and chicken thighs instead of chicken legs.
Feel free to play around with the spices. If you don’t have Middle Eastern Seven Spice at home, you can use cumin and coriander powder and other warm spices instead.
Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe and can be adjusted according to the amount of servings you’d like to make.
Which Chicken for Musakhan?
Palestinian musakhan is traditionally made with whole chicken legs. Chicken legs consist of two parts: thigh and drumstick. The thigh is the upper part of a chicken leg, the drumstick is the lower part.
Most butchers sell whole chicken legs with the thigh and drumstick connected. That’s what you’re looking for when creating musakhan following the authentic recipe. However, the recipe also works out with only thighs or only drumsticks. So don’t worry in case you can’t find whole chicken legs. I like to use chicken thighs for sumac chicken, as it’s easier to eat.
Which Bread for Musakhan?
Musakhan is traditionally served on tannour bread (also known as taboor bread). That’s especially true for Palestinian musakhan. Tannour bread is an Arabic bread similar to the Indian naan bread. It’s a thick bread made of leavened dough and cooked in a clay oven.
Fresh tannour bread can be difficult to find beyond the Middle East. But don’t worry, there are several alternatives. What’s important is that you use a thick type of bread. The Arabic bread (Lebanese bread) you’ll find in grocery stores is too thin which means it would become soggy when arranging the onions and chicken onto it.
If you don’t have tannour bread, you can use pita bread (either homemade or store bought). When using fresh bread, you don’t need to reheat it when serving sumac chicken. However, if you use pre-baked bread from the grocery store, you need to bake it in the oven (check the packaging).
How to Make Sumac Chicken (Musakhan)
Step 1: Prepare the chicken
Start by washing the chicken legs under running water. Pat dry and place on a cutting board. Cut a few slits in the skin. This will allow the marinade to enter the chicken. Don’t peel the chicken, the skin will really add to the flavor of the dish.
Step 2: Prepare the marinade
Combine olive oil, lemon juice, sumac, Seven Spice blend and salt into a large bowl. Stir well with a whisk or a fork.
Step 3: Marinade the chicken
Place the chicken legs in the bowl of marinade. Mix with your hands to make sure all chicken is coated in marinade. Ideally, you should place the chicken in the fridge for about 1-2 hours to allow the marinade to enter the chicken. If you’d like to make this sumac chicken as a last-minute recipe, you can skip the rest time and proceed with step 4.
Step 4: Place chicken on a tray
Grease a non-stick baking pan with a thin layer of olive oil. If you don’t have a baking pan, you can use a conventional baking tray instead. Be sure to use parchment paper so the chicken won’t stick onto the tray. Arrange the chicken pieces in the baking pan (or onto the tray).
Step 5: Roast
Place the baking pan in the pre-heated oven. Roast the chicken at 220°C (420°F) for about 35-40 minutes. The general rule is that chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 75°C (165°F). If you aren’t sure whether your chicken is fully cooked, you can use an oven thermometer. Alternatively, just take off one piece of chicken from the oven, cut open and visually check.
Step 6: Chop onions
While the chicken is roasting in the oven, you can prepare the onions. First, peel and roughly chop the onions.
Step 7: Fry onions
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the oil. Add sumac, Seven Spice blend and salt and mix well. Reduce to low heat and fry for about 10 minutes until the onions have softened. Stir occasionally. Set aside when done. The onions should be soft, not crispy.
Step 8: Toast pine nuts
When the chicken is almost done, toast the pine nuts in a small pan (without oil) for about 1-2 minutes until slightly golden. Set aside.
Step 9: Toast bread
Depending on the type of bread you use and your personal taste, you can briefly grill the bread. You can do so in a skillet on the stovetop or bake it in the oven once the chicken is done. For Jordanian chicken, the bread doesn’t need to be warm.
Step 10: Assemble
Musakhan traditionally consists of three layers: bread, topped with onions, topped with chicken. Arrange the bread on a large platter. Place the fried onions (including the juice!) on top of the bread. Take the roasted chicken out of the oven and arrange on top of the onions. Sprinkle it with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley. Serve hot.
What to Serve with Sumac Chicken
Musakhan is traditionally served with a simple Arab salad. If you’re in the mood for a fancier salad (and some additional carbs), you can even serve it with Tabbouleh salad.
Some people like to serve sumac chicken with pickles and some plain yogurt. Be sure to use unsweetened whole-fat yogurt. A hearty dip such as moutabal also fits perfectly with musakhan.
Storage & Make Ahead
Musakhan is very quick and easy to prepare.
If you happen to have any leftovers, be sure to store the ingredients separately. The chicken (and the onions) can be perfectly kept in the fridge and consumed within 1-2 days. You can eat it as musakhan rolls, or with a salad.
Bread that was in touch with oil isn’t the best candidate to be stored overnight. If possible, consume it the same day. If that’s not possible, be sure to scrape off the onions (store them with the chicken), and store the bread separately. Consume the next morning.
Any Questions or Feedback?
If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.
Sumac Chicken (Musakhan)
For the chicken:
- 1.5 kg bone-in chicken e.g. legs or thighs
- 4 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 0.5 lemon freshly squeezed
- 2 tsp sumac
- 1 tsp Seven Spice
- salt to taste
For the onions:
- 8 onions yellow, medium
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tsp sumac
- 1 tsp Seven Spice
- 12 pita bread
- 4 tsp pine nuts
- parsley to garnish
- Wash the chicken under running water. Pat dry and place on a cutting board. Cut a few slits in the skin (but don’t peel the chicken) to allow the marinade to enter the chicken.
- Prepare the chicken marinade by adding olive oil, lemon juice, sumac, Seven Spice blend and salt into a large bowl. Mix well.
- Place the chicken legs in the marinade. Mix with your hands to make sure all chicken is coated in marinade. Optionally, place in the fridge for an hour before roasting.
- Grease a baking pan with olive oil and arrange the chicken pieces. Alternatively, you can use a tray with parchment paper.
- Roast the chicken in the preheated oven at 220°C (420°F) for about 35-40 minutes. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 75°C (165°F).
- While the chicken is roasting in the oven, you can prepare the onions. Peel and roughly chop the onions.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the oil. Add sumac, Seven Spice blend and salt and mix well. Reduce to low heat and fry for about 10 minutes until the onions have softened. Stir occasionally. Set aside when done. The onions should be soft, not crispy.
- When the chicken is almost done, toast the pine nuts in a small pan (without oil) for about 1-2 minutes until slightly golden. Set aside.
- Depending on the type of bread, you can toast the bread in a skillet on the stovetop or in the oven, after removing the chicken.
- Place the bread on a large platter. Arrange the onions (including the juice!) on top of the bread. Take the roasted chicken out of the oven and arrange on top of the onions. Sprinkle it with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley. Serve hot.
- 1.5 kg of bone-in chicken is about 12 chicken thighs.
- Whole chicken legs (which are used for traditional Palestinian musakhan) means thighs + drumstick. If you can’t find whole chicken legs, you can perfectly make this recipe with only chicken thighs or only drumsticks.
- Sumac is a key ingredient to this recipe. Be sure to buy a high-quality sumac.
- The bread you’ll need for traditional musakhan is called taboon bread (also known as tannour bread). It’s a thick type of bread, similar to the Indian naan bread. If you can’t find this type of bread, use pita bread. You can make it yourself, or use store-bought pita bread (you’ll find them in the bread section in any grocery story). Don’t use the thin Lebanese flatbread, as they would become too soggy.
- The onions should be soft, not crispy. The key is to fry the onions at low heat for an extended period of time.
- The nutritional values are rough indications. They can vary according to the exact weight, type and brand of your ingredients.