Sumac-Scented Chicken Parcels


This Palestinian dish called musakhan is traditionally prepared to celebrate the end of the olive harvest. It’s made by slow-roasting chicken with onions and sumac and then encasing it in sheets of taboon flatbread that has been lathered in freshly pressed olive oil. It’s perfect for using up leftover chicken or turkey. Note that the Arabic bread for this recipe has to be bought, not made to my recipe, because home-made bread is not ideal for this recipe.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour


  • 2 skinless chicken legs and 2 skinless chicken thighs, weighing about 700 g/1 lb 9 oz in total
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 800 g/1 lb 12 oz large red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp sumac
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with the blade of a knife (optional)
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts
  • 250 ml/9 fl oz/generous 1 cup dry white wine
  • 250 ml/9 fl oz/generous 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 medium-large loaves of bought Arabic bread, each about 30 cm/12 in in diameter, unseparated, or 4 soft flour tortillas
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • mixed salad leaves, to serve


  1. Season the chicken with the allspice and some salt and pepper. Heat half the oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat, then sear the chicken pieces for 5–8 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the pan, unless there is still some in there, then add the onions, sumac and garlic, if using. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and slightly caramelized. Add the pine nuts during the last minutes of cooking time.
  3. Transfer the onion mixture to a plate and deglaze the pan with the wine, simmering for 2–3 minutes to reduce it. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for a further 5 minutes until the mixture has reduced by about half.
  4. Shred the cooked chicken and add to it to the frying pan along with the onion mixture and mix well to incorporate with the wine broth. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes or so to soak up some of the juices.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Place one loaf of bread on a work surface and spoon one-quarter of the onion mixture with some of its juices onto the centre of it. Create a parcel by folding over the edges and wrapping a long piece of kitchen string or sewing thread around the parcel lengthways, keeping the seamless side down, then twist the string lengthways to wrap it around the box shape widthways. Turn the parcel over so that the seamless side is facing up and tie the string into a bow on top of the parcel. Repeat to make the remaining parcels.
  6. Place the parcels on a baking sheet, seam-side down, and bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until golden and crispy. If you have any remaining juices in the pan, reserve them for spooning over the opened parcels once served.
  7. Transfer the cooked parcels to four serving plates and remove the string. Serve with the salad leaves.