This dish is inspired by the classic Palestinian dish called mussakhan (pronounce moo-ssa-khann), which is Arabic for “heated up”.
A thin bread encases chicken and rings of caramelized onions fragrant with sumac.
I like to use a Lebanese flatbread called markook for this dish, although a large pita (or several small ones) will do just fine as a substitute.
The lemony aroma of sumac comes wafting out of the envelope of bread. After baking, the bread is crackly and gets torn up in bite-size pieces. The chicken pieces get pulled up and placed on the bread with a few onion rings.
A great dish to take to a picnic. A dish to feed to an army of men who like to eat with their fingers!
I have used both deboned and bone-in chicken pieces and prefer the bone-in; it delivers more chicken flavor. To save time and effort, use deboned chicken and cut it in bite-size pieces.
If you can’t get a hold of a large and very thin piece of flatbread, then use some pita bread, split open and stuff with chicken and onions.
Sumac is sold in all spice stores, Middle-Eastern stores and online. Be wary of sumac that looks bright red, it is usually dyed! It needs to be a dull brownish-red color. Sumac imparts a lemony, sour taste to the dish.
- 1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in (about 6 per package)
- 1 jumbo yellow onion sliced in rings
- 3 Tablespoons of sumac
- A splash of white wine (optional) to deglaze the skillet (around one cup)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 markook breads or 2 large pita breads (or 3 standard-size pitas)
- olive oil, as needed
- Drizzle some olive oil in a skillet and stir-fry the onions until soft and golden. Sprinkle with sumac and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add a splash of olive oil and fry the chicken pieces until golden on both sides, sprinkling them with salt and pepper. Do not cook them thoroughly, they will finish cooking in the oven.
- The skillet will have browned bits of chicken; deglaze the skillet by pouring around one cup of white wine and letting it sizzle; dislodge the browned bits with a wooden spoon and add more water if needed to get 2 or 3 cups of liquid; simmer the “stock” for about 10 minutes until it is reduced a bit and has a good chicken stock flavor, adding salt and pepper as needed.
- Cover a large baking pan with foil; place one piece of bread on the pan; scatter half the onions in the middle of the bread and lay a maximum of 3 chicken pieces on the onion rings. Sprinkle with the remainder of the sumac and close the bread like a parcel. Fold over to have the seams at the bottom and with a spoon douse the bread with one cup of the chicken stock. Repeat the operation for the second bread.
- Bake in a preheated 350F (180 C) oven till the bread is golden and crisp, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
TIPS: A substitute for sumac would be to squeeze the juice of a lemon and douse the chicken and onion with it right before baking.
The chicken should only be half-cooked before baking. The bread needs to be brushed or sprinkled with chicken stock prior to entering the oven.
Some people like to sprinkle salt and sumac on the onions prior to frying; the salt will draw out the moisture from the onions and they will become crispier. I don’t find it necessary.