This Musakhan sumac chicken will surprise you with its savoriness and depth of flavor. Musakhan is a traditional Palestinian chicken dish consisting of spiced roast chicken, caramelized onions, and chewy flatbread. It’s commonly finished with toasted pine nuts and fresh parsley.
What is Musakhan?
Musakhan is a traditional Palestinian dish that features roasted chicken marinated in a flavorful blend of spices, including sumac and allspice.
The chicken is typically placed on a bed of sautéed onions and served atop a large flatbread, such as taboon or pita. The dish is then garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh parsley.
My version is a hybrid of traditional flavors and modern method—if you’re looking for something uber traditional, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking to explore Palestinian flavors with a method that is simple and straightforward, you’re in the right place.
The long and the short of it: Musakhan is a deeply spliced roast chicken dish served with caramelized onions and flatbread.
Ingredients For Musakhan Sumac Chicken
Garlic: I tested this recipe numerous times and after testing different prep method of the garlic, minced just simply is the best here. It impart flavor without taking over the dish.
Olive Oil: this is an important ingredient! Not only for obvious cooking reasons, but Musakahan is traditionally served during the olive harvest in celebration of olive oil pressing. Use a good, robust-flavored olive oil here. You want it to make itself known!
Sumac: one of the most important ingredients! Sumac has a gorgeous red hue and a tangy, almost citrusy flavor. Aside from this dish, you can use sumac to make Za’atar, in a Shepherd’s Salad, Fattoush Salad, and sprinkled over our Savory Citrus Salad.
Kosher salt: we use Morton kosher salt in our recipe development. If you’re using a different brand, check out our What is Kosher Salt article.
Cumin: a touch of ground cuming really rounds out the savory flavor of the chicken.
Allspice: another classic spice in Musakhan is allspice! It adds depth and warmth to the dish.
Coriander: another spice that adds brightness to the dish is ground coriander. It plays a similar role as sumac but without the citrusy tang.
Chicken: it’s incredibly important to use bone-in, skin-on chicken for this recipe. We recommend thighs and drumsticks. They cook at the same rate and can easily be divided among many people (unlike a large bone-in breast).
Red onion: onion is key in this recipe! Use a red onion and slice is very thinly. We recommend using a mandoline to get those thin strips. The thinner the better because the will caramelize more readily in the oven (instead of just steam and soften).
Pine nuts: just a handful of toasted pine nuts adds a nice buttery finish to the dish. Be sure to toast them to enhance and bring out all of their flavors!
We recommend toasting nuts in the oven because it evenly toasts all of the nuts and you’re less likely to burn them. Get the toasted before you put the chicken in so that step is done!
Bread: taboon is traditional but nearly impossible to find in the states. You can substitute with naan or pita.
Toppings: serve the Musakhan with thinned tahini (thin tahini with water), fresh parsley and lemon zest for an added bit of zip and freshness!
How to Make Musakhan Sumac Chicken
1. Prep the Chicken
Using a sharp paring know, cut a few slits in each chicken piece. This enoucrages the spice mixture to get into the meat and season it.
2. Marinate the Sumac Chicken
In a large bowl, combine the spices and oil to make a spice paste. Add the chicken and the very thinly sliced onions and toss to combine.
Be sure to rub the spice mixture into and underneath the chicken. I even like to stuff some of the onions underneath the skin. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours (1-4 hours).
3. Toast the Pinenuts
Arrange the pinenuts in an even later on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven at 375ºF until golden brown and fragrant. Remove them from the oven then increase the temperature to 425ºF for the chicken.
4. Roast the Chicken
Arrange the chicken and onions in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast the chicken until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest parts, but not touching the bone, registers about 172ºF. This should take about 30 minutes.
5. Broil the Chicken
Turn your oven to broil and move the sheet pan up a rack (to the upper middle position). Broil the chicken until the skin is deeply browned and the onions start to char. The chicken should eventually register 175ºF.
Because every oven and every broiler is different, this can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. The chicken can go from golden brown to burnt quickly if your oven runs hot—so keep an eye on it!
6. Warm the Naan and Assemble
Turn the oven off and arrange the naan right on the oven rack. Let the naan warm through until soft and pliable.
Meanwhile, arrange the chicken and onions on a large platter. Top with chopped parsley, grated lemon zest and the toasted pine nuts.
Start with a couple tablespoons of water then add more, by tablespoon, until it’s light in color and thin enough to drizzle.
Tips for Making and Serving Musakhan Chicken
- For the best and most flavorful results, use bone-in skin-on chicken. The skin imparts flavor and the bones keep the meat nice and moist.
- Sumac chicken is all about the spices. Which makes the quality of spices you use ultra-important. Spices are most potent within the first 6 months of opening.
- If you aren’t sure how fresh they are, give them a good smell. They should be very fragrant. If they look and smell dull, it’s time to replace them.
- If you’re working on filling out your spice cabinet, make sure you have the essential spices. It will make cooking far more convenient.
- Use a mandoline to get the onions really thin. The thinner they are, the more likely they are to brown instead of steam in the oven.
FAQs About Sumac Chicken
Musakhan is best eaten with your hands. Because this dish is comprised of large bone-in pieces of chicken, we recommend using your hands to pull the chicken off the bone and eat it with a torn piece of flatbread, some onions and a drizzle of tahini.
After the chicken, this is the second most important ingredient in this recipe. You really need sumac to make Musakhan. If you’re really in a pinch, you can use some lemon zest instead and increase the cumin and coriander.
Technically? Sure. But we recommend using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks. First, because that’s how this recipe was developed. Two, it’s more traditional. And three, it’s just better.
Storage And Freezing
Leftover musakhan can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat leftover sumac chicken, arrange the chicken and onions on a baking sheet and reheat in a 325ºF oven until warmed through.
To freeze musakhan, transfer the chicken to a resealable freezer bag (or container) and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Allow the chicken to thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat in a 325ºF oven until warmed through.
More Middle Eastern Recipes to Try
For a quick and impressive appetizer, try our Labneh Dip with Pistachio Dukkah and Pickled Cherries.
Kick off the day with a plate of Turkish Eggs! Creamy whipped goat cheese, an herby cuke salad, fried eggs and chile oil—there’s nothing better.
Musakhan (Sumac Chicken) Recipe
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sumac
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoons allspice
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 3 –3 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks
- 1 large red onion, quartered and very thinly sliced (mandoline)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 4 –6 naan, pita, or Taboon bread, warmed, for serving
- Tahini, lemon and parsley for serving
- In a large bowl combine 4 minced cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons sumac, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1½ teaspoons allspice, and 1½ teaspoons coriander. Mix into a paste.
- Trim excess skin from 3 pound bone-in, skin on chicken thighs and drumsticks.
- Using a knife, slash each piece of chicken all over (4 or 5 times); add chicken pieces and 1 very thinly sliced red onion to spice mixture. Toss to coat chicken with spices, working some of spice mixture and onion slices under skin of chicken. Cover and chill for 1–4 hours.
- When ready to cook, preheat oven to 375ºF with racks set in upper and middle position. Arrange ¼ cup pine nuts on a small baking sheet; toast in oven until golden brown and fragrant, 6–8 minutes. Set pine nuts aside. Increase oven to 425ºF.
- Arrange chicken in an even layer on a quarter sheet pan; sprinkle onions over top. Roast chicken on middle rack until juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest areas, but not touching the bone, registers 172ºF, about 30 minutes.
- Turn oven to broil and move chicken to upper rack, broil until skin is browned, onions start to char, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest areas, but not touching the bone, registers between 175ºF and 180ºF, 5–15 minutes more (all broilers are different—keep an eye on your chicken! This could take just 5 minutes for you while other oven can take up to 15 minutes).
- Remove chicken from oven and let rest. Turn oven off and place breads directly on middle rack—heat just to warm through, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer breads to a platter, nestle chicken and onions alongside bread; drizzle with some of the chicken juices. Sprinkle pine nuts and parsley over top. Serve with lemon wedges and thinned tahini (see notes).