Recipe: M’Sakhan sumac chicken, caramelized onions, traditional Arab chicken meal
By Ray Hanania
M’Sakhan literally means “warming the bread” in Arabic. The recipe is very popular in Levant countries (Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.)
Sumac is a popular spice but it is related to the cashew family so if you are allergic to nuts, make sure you check with your doctor to determine whether you can or cannot enjoy this spice. Sumac is a red-berried shrub. The word Sumac is of Assyrian origins.
The berries are dried and ground into the reddish spice which you might often see on hummus, rice and salads. It’s often used like pepper as an ingredient to add taste and as an after-cooking spice sprinkled on the food. It is often used as a dry rub, as a part of a marinade or as a dressing sprinkled on the food when it is served or as cooking is completed.
This is a great meal to serve with Laban, tabouli salad, hummus and pickled beets.
4 whole Chicken, each cut into 4 pieces
4-8 large onions, thinly sliced
6-8 pita bread to cover the pan
Basically you will need one diced onion and a half a cup of Olive Oil for each pita bread you will use int he recipe.
8 cloves garlic crushed
8 Bay Leaves
12 Whole Cloves
12 Cardamon Seeds, lightly crushed
20 Black Pepper Corns
Salt & Black Pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup Summac
Salt & Black Pepper
2 cups Chicken Broth
3 to 4 cups of Olive Oil
1 cup toasted Pine Nuts
Mix the spices with lemon juice and use as a marinade. Add Olive Oil. (The traditional M’Sakhan is loaded with Olive Oil but you can add olive oil to your own preference.)
Rub the chicken in lemon juice marinade and allow to marinate (overnight preferably but 2 hours would be great). Place the chicken “face down” in a baking pan and cover with sliced onions and spice to your tastes. The onions can remain as rings or you can cut the rings in half. Cover in aluminum foil and slowly roast the chicken and collect the broth as it cooks. Bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees in oven.
In a separate pot place the half the onions (sliced and cut into 1/2 inch length pieces). Add the Chicken broth and spice the entire mix. Add half of your pine nuts into the broth. Mix well and slowly cook for about 20-30 minutes on a medium flame.
Oil a flat baking pan and cover with the pita bread (flat bread). Whole or cut into 4 wedges each, and cover the pan with some overlap…. Drench the bread with olive oil. Place the pre-cooked chicken on the bread “face up” with the onions. Add more spices per your preferences. Cook the chicken for about 20 to 30 minutes until the skin is a crispy golden brown.
Fry pine nuts in a separate skillet until brown and sprinkle on the chicken 5 minutes before removing from the oven.
Place the cooked chicken on the pan of crisp, browned bread and onion mix, and serve.
For more information on great Arab recipes, visit the Mediterranean Food Recipe page at: