Mummified Chicken

I found ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’ in Peckham Library. It was on my radar because the man who wrote it, artist Jake Tilson, is local, and the book has a section on Peckham. One of the recipes was this ‘mummified chicken’ – apparently so named by the author’s wife but Middle Eastern in origin and properly called ‘firakh mashwiya bi-al-summa’. You get your chook, smother it with a paste of blended onions and tart, lemony sumac and then stuff it inside a load of flatbread.

In the book, Jake suggests using Lebanese lavish flatbread, but when I went down to Persepolis in search of something suitable, Sally told me that Jake also buys his bread there and always uses this circular khobez, so I followed suit (we’re all tight in Peckham, you see). The bread splits apart very easily and has just enough room, handily, to hold a chicken. I stuffed it inside a double layer and then put a further two on in the opposite direction to make sure the bird was nice and cosy.

The whole thing is baked for 3-4 hours (depending on size) and although you are left with very crisp, inedible bread on top, the underneath is gooey with roasted chicken juices. We actually squabbled over the last few pieces of super savoury, unctuous, saturated khobez. The bird itself was incredibly succulent and flavoursome, having steamed and sizzled in its little enclosure. Jake suggests serving it with rice but a green salad worked perfectly well for us.

This dish would make excellent dinner party fodder. It’s really easy, you can leave it in the oven for ages and it has a ‘big reveal’ when you crack open the shell and the fragrant meaty steam puffs out. Just make sure you’ve got good mates round, because you will be fighting over those bread scraps, trust me.

Mummified Chicken or Firakh Mashwiya Bi-al-summa (from ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’ by Jake Tilson)

2 large onions, grated
2 tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
4 khobez breads or other suitable flatbreads
1 large chicken

Preheat your oven to 175C/Gas 4

Make a coarse paste with the onions, sumac, oil, salt and pepper and cover the chicken with it, inside and out. Grease a baking dish. Stuff your chicken inside your bread and put it in the dish, adding more bread as necessary until it is completely enclosed. You just have to do your best here. Cover it loosely with foil and bake for 3-4 hours, depending on the size of your chicken. You need to brush the top of the bread with water every now and then to stop it burning. It does go very crisp on top. Serve with pilau rice and/or salad.

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20 thoughts on “Mummified Chicken

  1. Wow – what an incredible recipe. This looks ridiculously good. Really impressed, and love the whole middle eastern flavours vibe with the sumac. I’ll have to give this a go.

  2. really, really fascinating. my iraqi friend makes something similar- but i love the way this is ‘mummified’. beautiful- you always make some complicated things, helen and make them look so easy- youre an ace Chef, truly. x shayma

  3. I did something similar a couple of months ago by encasing a chicken a chicken in a kind of a rough bread dough and baking the lot. I wanted to see how the bird would fare in a pastry case, and it did OK – the meat was tender and juicy, but the skin was a bit underwhelming. I missed the crispy roast chicken skin.

    The use of a punchy marinade like this would have probably made all the difference in my dish.

    Time for a second try, methinks…

  4. Ooh, this looks good! I did something similar years ago with poussin but they were wrapped in a flour and water mixture which was discarded afterwards, I much prefer the idea of eating the bread afterwards though.

  5. I’m glad the library had a copy of my book! I hunted for this recipe as I wanted to find a use for sumac other than sprinkling it on hummus. The recipe seems to be from Palestine and I loved the idea of a bread parcel – I also have a recipe that wraps a whole chicken in a banana leaf parcel.
    For mummified chicken any very large flat bread would work – I usually use lavash, I notice that Persepolis now sell organic wholemeal lavash. The trick, as you probably found out, is to make sure the bread is fresh so it doesn’t crack when wrapped. Lavash are also great for making an impromptu pizza.

  6. What an awesome idea. I love it. This will be appearing at a dinner party very soon! I imagine it would work very well for fish as well. In fact would it work on a BBQ? If you soaked the bread first you might well land up with the perfect BBQ/steamed fish sandwich!

  7. Chris – I love your waste not want not approach. Next time I will try and pass them off as nibbles, just for you.

    Anne – You must! You will love it. They are about to start selling even more exciting stuff too so you’re in for a treat.

    Kavey – Thanks!

    The Grubworm – Do let me know what you think if you make it :)

    Rachel – Yeah it’s great isn’t it? I love the idea of just wrapping up a chicken too, there is something about that makes me giggle.

    Maunika – Absolutely! Such a simple recipe, too.

  8. Oh wow. This looks like fabulous, more edible and easier version of clay pot chicken. I love it. The chicken would come out lovely and moist and the bread, as you say, would be worth fighting over.

    This is most definitely bookmarked.

  9. This looks and sounds fantastic and I adore khobez so shall have to try it out – think this could be my bank holiday cooking challenge! And I MUST get to Persepolis – I’m ashamed to say I’ve not been there, every time I plan to go something happens and I don’t make it. I feel I’ve failed in some way not getting there as I only live down the road!

  10. That looks completely amazing. I think I’d still eat the crispy bits of bread from the top – can’t you just put them in a bowl and call them nibbles?


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