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Can You Say Msakkhan? How About Arabic Chicken?

Written By Pam Brandon and Anne-Marie Denicole On December 23, 2009

msakkhanThe divas’ ongoing wish for world peace through food gets a boost with this can’t-put-our-fork-down delicious dinner compliments of Salwa, the new mother-in-law of our diva in training.

Salwa grew up in Ramallah, a tiny town in Palestine, and her family recipes are the greatest treasures she brought to America.  This traditional Arabic dish Msakkhan (pronounced “im-sohcken” with a throaty second syllable) was traditionally regarded as peasant food. Though its origins are Middle Eastern, it’s basically her version of a comfort casserole.

Happy holidays and warm wishes for world peace!



Msakkhan (Arabic Chicken on Onion Bread)

Serves 4

3 generous tablespoons finely ground sumac

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg quarters

3 large red onions, peeled and large diced

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock, divided

4 to 6 small pita bread rounds

Combine sumac, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixture in another bowl and set it aside. Squeeze the lemon juice over the rest of the mixture and use a fork to combine. Add 2 tablespoons oil and stir to combine.

Trim the chicken parts to remove excess skin and fat. In a large resealable plastic bag or a large bowl, combine the spice marinade and chicken pieces, and turn chicken to coat well in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and reserved spice mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions begin to soften. Add 2 tablespoons chicken stock and stir. Turn heat to low/medium-low, and cover pot. Cook onions, stirring every so often, until they are meltingly soft and have turned a nice purple color, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Remove chicken from marinade, and shake off excess.

Place chicken in the pan skin side up, and roast until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken pieces reaches 165º on an instant-read thermometer, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock in a shallow dish. Quickly dip each piece of pita into the stock, shaking to remove excess, then place pita on one even layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Brush pitas with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Spoon onions evenly atop bread, leaving a 1/2-inch border all the way around. Bake for the last 25 minutes of the chicken’s cooking time, until bread is deep golden brown.

Top each piece of onion bread with a chicken quarter and serve remaining pitas on the side.

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