PALESTINIAN SUMAC-SCENTED ROAST CHICKEN
Meltingly tender chicken with the lemony flavor of sumac and the sweetness of caramelized onions, musakhan
is a favorite dish of Palestinians everywhere.
Sheets of flatbread encase the chicken as it cooks, protecting it from direct heat and soaking up delicious juices. Musakhan is traditionally eaten with the fingers. Sometimes spelled moussakhan or musakhkhan.
4 to 6 servings
Chicken, cut into serving pieces -- 1 (3-pound)
Dried sumac (see variations) -- 1/4 cup
Ground cinnamon -- 1 teaspoon
Ground allspice or cloves -- 1/2 teaspoon
Ground nutmeg -- 1/4 teaspoon
Salt and pepper -- to season
Olive oil -- 1/4 cup
Onions, thinly sliced -- 3
Lavash bread -- 2 large piece
In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, sumac, spices, salt and pepper. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, or preferably for several hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, and brown on both sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the skillet and saute, stirring often, until the onions are cooked down and beginning to brown, 15 to 25 minutes.
Line the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken and onions with a sheet of lavash bread. Spread half the onions over the bread, then place chicken over the onions. Top the chicken with the remaining onions. Cover the whole dish with the remaining sheet of lavash bread, tucking in the sides to seal the chicken in. Sprinkle the lavash bread with water to lightly moisten it.
Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through (an insta-read thermometer inserted into the dish should register around 180°F). If the bread starts to burn, cover it lightly with aluminum foil.
Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the top bread and serve the chicken in its dish.
Spices and seasonings: Sumac is a common spice in the Middle East. The ground berries of a Middle Eastern bush, it can be found in most Middle Eastern markets. If you can't get it, use 3 tablespoons of paprika and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Of course, the taste won't be quite the same. Some cooks add a big pinch of saffron to the sauteing onions.
Bread: Palestinians use bread called shrak or marquq for this dish. More commonly available Armenian lavash bread is very similar. Or use 2 or 3 pieces of pita bread that have been split in two horizontally. I even cheat and use flour tortillas in a pinch.
Garnish the finished dish with toasted pine nuts or almonds if you like.