Lamb or Goat Musakhan
Here’s a vision of street food: mounds of slowly cooked, spiced meat piled with onions, lemony-tart sumac and toasted pine nuts, all sitting on top of taboon or flatbreads to use as utensils. Musahkan is a famous, traditional comfort food recipe from the Levant, Palestine, and around Israel.
Widely thought of as the National dish of Palestine, and typically made with chicken, our lamb musahkan developed by Chef Bergo calls for lamb or goat, and preferably a shoulder or neck cut with lots of marbling and intra-muscular fat, to ensure a juicy result. The end product is tender, tart, shredded meat, with plenty of juices to soak into flatbreads or warmed pita.
The magic is all in the preparation, and taking time (Bergo’s recipe calls for 3 days) for the sumac, and the ascorbic acid it contains, to marinade and flavor the meat. The other important component chef found as he tested recipes was a proper proportion of onions. At the Midwest Wild Harvest Fest, a recent 2019 event featuring Shepherd Song Farm Grass-Fed Lamb and Goat Meat, Chef Bergo prepared lamb musakhan for 200 people, requiring a total 120 lbs of onions, and 80 lbs of meat, and the nearly equal onion to meat ratio is the same if you’re cooking for 8 or 80 people.
Depending on how traditional you want to be, Chef also outlines a method for making simple flatbreads at home, although store-bought pita bread without pockets are a fine substitute. Baharat spice, commonly used in similar regional dishes, can be purchased online, at a local ethnic market, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, Chef has included a recipe for making your own.
This recipe is by chef Alan Bergo. A chef from Minnesota, Alan is a veteran of the culinary industry, former executive chef of acclaimed Lucia’s Restaurant, and the Salt Cellar. He’s best known as a respected authority on Midwestern foraging. Learn more about Alan and his hunt for mushrooms, wild and obscure foods at his site Forager Chef.
Lamb or Goat Musakhan
- 4 lbs boneless lamb or goat cut into 2-ounce, roughly square pieces
- 6 tablespoons sumac divided in half
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt plus more to taste
- Pinch of saffron crumbled (optional)
- 2 tablespoons Baharat spice mix recipe follows
Baharat Spice Mix Yield: ~ ¼ cup or enough for 4 recipes
- 5 grams / 1.5 Tablespoons ground black pepper
- 7 grams / 1 Tablespoons ground coriander
- 7 grams / 1 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 gram / ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 5 grams / ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 5 grams / 1.5 Tablespoons ground allspice
- 5 grams / 1/2 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 7 grams / 1 Tablespoon ground nutmeg
- 6 lbs yellow sweet onions
- 1 cup rendered lamb fat or cooking oil
- 3 cups water or lamb stock
- 3 tablespoons sumac
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 Tablespoon instant yeast
- 1/4 cup lamb fat at room temperature
- 5 cups water
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- For the lamb, combine the lamb or goat chunks, baharat, 3 tablespoons of salt and saffron if using. Cover and refrigerate the meat for 2-3 days, turning occasionally.
- Combine the flours, water, sugar, lard and yeast and mix well in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and allow to double in size, then refrigerate to make the dough easier to handle. From here, the dough can be made ahead of time, up to a day or two.
- To cook the flatbreads, flour a work surface, then portion out roughly 2 ounce balls of dough.
- Roll the dough into even-sized balls, then roll each one out with a rolling pin until they’re very thin, but not so thin they tear. Drape the dough over a metal mixing bowl, and gently stretch until they’re round, and as thin as you can make them. Keep in mind this is a rustic dish, and the flatbreads don’t have to be perfect. Heat a dry skillet wide enough to fit the flatbread rounds, and cook on medium high heat, without adding oil. The dough should puff up and brown. Working one at a time, brown the flatbreads on each side, then transfer to a towel to rest.
- For the sumac onions, dice the onions medium-large, then add the 2 teaspoons of salt and sweat in the lamb fat for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just wilted. Do not allow the onions to color or brown. Preheat the oven to 300.
- When the onions are just wilted, add the sumac, then transfer with the lamb and it's juices to a deep baking dish large enough to accommodate the lamb and onions. Add the stock, cover with parchment, then foil, and bake for 2 hours or until the lamb is tender when scraped with a fork.
- Use tongs to remove the lamb pieces to a bowl, cool for a bit, then shred roughly with 2 forks. Taste the lamb, then adjust the seasoning for salt if needed, chill and reserve. Strain the reserved cooking liquid from the onions, keeping both separate. Chill the stock and onions. When the fat is chilled and set, scrape it off and discard, but leave a few tablespoons of it to add moisture to the finished dish. Traditionally this is often served quite oily.
- To serve the lamb, dip or brush the flatbreads with some of the cooking liquid, then reheat in the oven, and use them to line a platter. Meanwhile, reheat the shredded lamb with some of the stock, and spoon a generous amount of onions onto each flatbread, arrange the shredded lamb on top of the onions, drizzling over any juices, sprinkle on the toasted nuts, reserved sumac to taste, and serve immediately.