Musakhan or Palestinian Sumac Roast Chicken is wonderful. Masses of onions are slowly cooked in bucket loads of olive oil and spices until almost jammy and then slathered onto flat breads. These are topped with sumac spiced, roasted chicken pieces. I discovered this dish in 2017 when travelling across West Bank. My first stop was the sleepy village of Sabastia. A little dot of a place, built around a central square with a few cafes and shops and some rather impressive Roman ruins in the hills above. I had been invited to help cook lunch at the guest house I was staying at. Shadi took me down to her huge kitchen – which I found out very early the next morning was used to bake 5000 breads every day for local school children. We cooked several dishes including this musakhan. The main difference was the size. We made it for giants. I am quite small and I could barely hold the huge dish when we had finished – keep swiping and you will see what I mean. Shadi also used masses of first press olive oil – an expensive commodity, but this is a celebratory dish. After slow cooking the onions, almost confit really, she drained them and then drenched the breads, which form the base of the dish in the cooking olive oil so that they drank up all the flavour. We sat and ate in a stone courtyard; Musakhan, makluba (a rice cake), chopped salads and loads of fizzy drinks. It was my first insight into real Palestinian food and I was hooked.
- Pre heat the oven to 200 fan. Put 2 tbsp of the olive oil into a large mixing bowl and the tomato puree, 2 tbsp sumac and a really good pinch of salt. Mix well and chuck in the chicken. Toss together so that it gets completely coated. Transfer to a roasting dish and roast for 40-50 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the meat cooked through.
- Meanwhile, put the onions and 50ml of the olive oil into large non-stick pan. Add the garlic, cardamom and a good pinch of salt. Stir-fry over a high heat for 2-3 minutes to get everything hot and frying and then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring regularly, for 45-40 minutes or until you have a beautifully bronzed mess of almost jammy onion paste in the pan. You will have to adjust the heat as they cook, so that the onions colour but don’t start going crispy. You want a light sizzle to get them lovely and brown. Check the seasoning and add salt to taste.
- Chuck the breads into the hot oven for about 1 minute to warm through. Place onto a serving plate and spread the onions mix over the top, a little like you would with a pizza.
- Place the chicken on top of flat breads and drizzle over the juices from the roasting dish. Scatter over the almonds, parsley, baharat and remaining sumac, and serve immediately.
50ml + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 1/2 tbsp sumac
6 chicken thighs, skin and bone on (1kg)
6 onions, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
4 cardamom pods, smashed open
20g toasted almond slithers
A small handful or chopped parsley leaves
1 tsp baharat
6 small pittas or 2 large naan to serve