Musakhan: Baked Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Pine Nuts
By Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
If there is one chicken dish that exemplifies the pride of Palestine, Musakhan would be first in line. Women in the tiny Palestinian village called Ein ‘Arik created this rustic recipe of sumac seasoned chicken roasted on pita bread, topped with caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts. In my family we literally fight over the bread, which is rich with the chicken pan juices, and crispy brown around the edges.
Musakhan means “warmed” or “heated” in Arabic, because in Ein ‘Arik the women would bake this dish in the tabun, or clay oven that has been used in Palestinian villages since biblical times. The Palestinians of Ein ‘Arik village still use the tabun ovens to make this dish in restaurants today.
Musakhan is a real crowd pleaser at dinner parties, and also makes a cozy meal for the family any day of the week. If you don’t have sumac on hand, you can substitute allspice, although sumac has a more delicate and tangy flavor. Many Middle Eastern grocery stores sell sumac in bulk for a very reasonable price. Sumac is actually the ground bulb of a flowering shrub which is deep purple in color and adds a tangy, lemony flavor to dishes. Sumac is also used to garnish many Middle Eastern dishes as well because of its beautiful color. I have devised a shortcut method so you can recreate Musakhan in your own kitchen, no tabun required.
For the video on how to make this recipe, see below:
1 large chicken cut in pieces (can substitute with at least 3 pounds of all chicken thighs or breasts with the bone in depending on preference)
2 Tbs. sumac, divided
2 Tbs. plus ¼ cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
4 large onions, sliced into thin slivers
½ cup pine nuts, toasted in 1 tbs olive oil until browned
1 1/2 packages of pita bread or flatbread rounds, cut in half
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Combine 2 tbs.olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to make a marinade. Cover the chicken with the marinade, and rub in 1 tbs sumac, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil, and add onions and the rest of the sumac with some salt to taste. Sauté onions until browned and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add more oil if the onions start to burn. Set aside. Line a large casserole dish with the slices of pita bread to cover the bottom of the pan. Place the marinated chicken pieces on the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven. Baste the chicken with any leftover juices or olive oil if you wish. Lower the oven heat to 400 degrees. Then put the onions of top of the chicken and bake for another 25 minutes. Once done, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle pine-nuts over onions and chicken, serve immediately.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at: https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/ and on Instagram on @Blanchemedia