Musakhan rolls are made with shredded chicken, sumac, caramelized onions, flatbread, and olive oil. Sumac chicken, or musakhan, could probably be labeled as the national dish of Palestine. Originally, Palestinians used to make it to celebrate the olive harvest. But you'll definitely find it as a main dish at all events.
Traditionally, you'd serve it as layers of thick, fresh flatbread called taboon. They're then drenched in olive oil and sandwiched between generous beds of onions and sumac. And you'll usually find a couple of whole chickens on top. I remember being so excited to grab a piece of bread so I can slather it with the heavenly onion mixture. I can't describe how amazing it is.
What I Love About This Recipe
Although this is probably one of the most delicious dishes you'll ever have (trust me on this one), it can also get really messy. Here's where the rolls come in. Perfectly packed into crispy rolls, I love how easy to serve this version of musakhan is.
- Onions: Get your goggles out, because we're chopping LOTS of onions (around 9 to be exact). They're the base of the whole dish. To save time, I just like to slice them instead of chopping them up really small as you'll usually find in musakhan.
- Chicken: You can use a whole chicken, or any parts you prefer because it will be boiled and shredded anyways.
- Olive oil: Personally, I use authentic Palestinian olive oil that my mom gets from Palestine, but your next best option will be some good old extra virgin olive oil.
- Flatbread: The key to this recipe is in the bread. You want to find a really thin flatbread like markook, shrak, or saj bread. They'll give you the perfect ratio between bread and the insanely delicious sumac chicken stuffing. The thinner the bread, the crispier your rolls will be.
- Sumac: This is what gives musakhan its beautiful red color and its bold and tangy flavor (think a little bit like lemon but more fruity). I like adding even more on top.
- Pine nuts: You can add some toasted pine nuts in the filling itself, but I like to sprinkle some right on top of the rolls so they stay crunchy. You can also use toasted almond slivers.
- Spices: Since the chicken will be boiled, it's important to use the correct amount of spices to keep it juicy and flavorful. The combination in this recipe is my all-time favorite!! It includes cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, whole black pepper, and white pepper. Also, make sure to save the broth, I like to use it in soups, curries, etc. And also to brush on top of the rolls before I bake them.
How To Make Musakhan Rolls
In a pot, add the whole chicken, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, allspice, white pepper, black peppercorns, and about 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 45 to 60 minutes or until completely cooked through.
While the chicken boils, slice up the onions, and in another pot add them in with the olive oil and cook on medium heat until translucent for about 20 minutes. To speed up the process, add ½ teaspoon salt.
Once the chicken and onions are both fully cooked, take the chicken out of the water and shred. Add the shredded chicken and sumac to the onion pot. Mix until well incorporated. Add pine nuts if using.
Fold the flatbread in half and cut down the middle so you have 2 folded halves. Place the chicken and sumac on the widest end, tuck in the sides, and roll.
Do this until your mixture is all rolled up.
Preheat your oven to 350 ℉ (180 ℃). Grease the baking pan with olive oil and line up your rolls. Brush with olive oil or leftover chicken stock. Bake until the tops are golden (about 15 to 20 minutes). Garnish with more sumac and pine nuts if using.
Tips and Tricks
For both the traditional Palestinian sumac chicken and these musakhan rolls, cook the onions on medium heat. Make sure the olive oil isn't too hot, and let the onions slowly cook until translucent. Otherwise, the onions will be crispy. I like to stir it every couple of minutes to ensure it cooks evenly.
Roll the bread tightly around the sumac chicken stuffing, and tuck in the sides so the stuffing doesn't fall out.
Don't forget to brush the tops of your rolls with olive oil or chicken broth to get them perfectly crispy.
Variations and Substitutions
The best bread for musakhan rolls is markook, shrak, or saj bread at your local Middle Eastern bakery or supermarket. I would look for large flatbreads that are paper-thin.
If you can't find anything similar and don't want to make your own, you can always use pita bread. I suggest pulling it apart into two halves so you'll get a thinner bread that's easy to roll.
- 2 medium-sized stovetop pot
- a spatula or something to stir with
- a baking tray
Sumac is one of the most famous spices in the Palestinian kitchen. It's a bright red/magenta colored powder that comes from the dried and then ground berries of the wild sumac flower.
It has a very distinct tangy and almost sour taste.
Sumac can be used in fattoush, musakhan, sumac eggs, and you'll find it added to meat, chicken, fish, salad dressing, etc. It's also used as a garnish because it adds the perfect kick to any dish.