Bahraini Chicken Machboos
Chicken Dinner Lunch Meats and Seafoods Mid-East/Mediterranean Middle Eastern Rice Recipes Rice/Noodles/Pasta Saudi

How to Cook Chicken Machboos (Bahraini Spiced Rice)

What is chicken machboos?

Chicken machboos is a truly delicious dish from Bahrain, a country in the Gulf. Bahraini spiced chicken, as it is also called, is considered their national dish. Machboos is the Bahraini version of Saudi Arabia’s popular kapsa or India and Pakistan’s biryani. This dish from the Middle East features succulent chicken pieces marinated in various spices and herbs, then cooked with rice and vegetables for an aromatic and flavorful meal.

Ingredients for chicken machboos

The key ingredients in chicken machboos (or machboos ad-dajaj, as it is called locally), are chicken and rice (dajaj being the Arabic term cor chicken).  It therefore follows that machboos alrubyan is shrimp with rice, and machboos al-laham is meat (beef or lamb) with rice.

chicken Machboos Ingredients

The rest of the ingredients for machboos are loads of onions, little amount of diced tomatoes, and a variety of spices along with what is called “baharat” which literally means “mixed spices.”  I find it puzzling in the beginning why the use of other spices when there is already baharat. As the taste of machboos comes about, I do not ask that question anymore.

Spices for machboos

Baharat can be purchased locally, however, can be done at home on your own. Here is the fun and challenging part: not all baharats are created equal. Keeping in mind that the success, failure, and yummy-ness of the machboos (or kapsa or biryani) is also coming from the spice mix, and that the distinction in taste is a personal prerefence, different baharat versions do come about.  It is, therefore, normal to have a favorite brand for baharat or a favorite spice seller, or a favorite recipe.

Not all baharats are created equal.

I had tried many versions of baharat through my years of cooking. My experimentation with this spice mix ws brought about by my mom-in-law’s superb version of the dish and she claims that it is because of the baharat, which she said she buys from the same seller in the local market.  I looked up from different source and I noticed that the spices are between 7-9, measured and mixed… to?  Thre is no uniformity or perfection in the ratio of the spices, believe it or not. it must be a matter of preference, really. You may try the baharat recipe below, if you do not already have it in your pantry or if you would initially want to make your own. You can definitely make adjustments on your next until you get your correct spice blend:

Baharat Spice Blend

  • 2 teaspoons – ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon – ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon – ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon – ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon – cinnamon powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon – cardamom powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon – cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix all the spices and keep them in an airtight container until use.

Tip:  Whole spices can be roasted over medium heat in a pan and ground using a coffee grinder. This will give the dish a nice, smoky taste.

How to cook chicken machboos

Machboos, as is many middle eastern dishes, does not qualify as “quick.” “Easy” yes, because it is not difficult to cook machboos; but not “quick” because it is preferable to lengthen the cooking time. It is one of the secrets of a successful machboos. Also, you will find machboos recipes that ask to dry roast the spices. Our recipe here does not ask for that because we will not only be using spice powders, we are going to practically cook our prices before we add the chicken pieces. That would cover the roasting process. And that is another secret to achieving a successful machboos.

Here is basically how this recipe would go:

  • Sautee onions over medium-high heat until a little more than golden brown. Light brown? Overcooking the onions could be better, however, it could also make your dish a bit darker. The color will, however, balance when rice is mixed.
  • Add powdered spices and cook until fragrant.
  • Add chicken pieces. Cook until half done.
  • Add herbs and black lime. Leave covered over low heat to cook completely, turning a few times.
  • Mix with pre-boiled (with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and cloves) basmati rice and simmer under very low heat for at least half an hour.

Did you notice the amount of time it takes for each step? You will enjoy the process, though, I can guarantee you that.

How to serve chicken machboos

  • Serve with fresh lemon juice or lemon wedges on the side. The dish is good even without the lemon, but it can also enhance the taste of machboos.
  • Green chili peppers or hot peppers on the side are also a nice addition to the taste of machboos. I see locals biting on the green chillies as they eat their machboos, or kapsa.
  • Hot sauce, anyone? My kids ask for hot sauce when I serve them this dish. Probably their replacement for the fresh hot peppers.
  • Partner this dish with Arabic salad like tabbouleh, green salad or fattoush.
  • As this is a crowd-pleaser, machboos is a good candidate for potluck lunches or dinners.

Bahraini Chicken Machboos

How to keep leftover chicken machboos

Leftover machboos can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for a month. Thaw, then heat in a dutch oven. Stir machboos tenderly with a wooden spoon over medium-high heat during the first 2 minutes, then adjust heat to medium, turn rice dish twice until all the chicken and rice are heated up.

You can also put machboos on a baking dish, cover it with aluminum foil and heat it in the oven at 300F for about half an hour.

Cooking tips:

  • Chicken breasts, chicken thighs or chicken legs, or any combination is a good option, especially if you are serving this during an occasion.  “Easier to deal with,” as they say.
  • Be generous with onions, if you wish. It provides a different kind of sweet taste to the dish.
  • One small tomato can also be enough. If you are going to be generous with tomatoes, you can omit the tomato paste-water ingredient.
  • Use chicken broth instead of water for tastier machboos. Or add chicken stock, but remove salt from the lineup of ingredients.
  • Replace fresh cilantro (fresh coriander) with 1 tbsp of coriander powder. Add the coriander powder as you would fresh coriander, i.e., along with fresh parsley.
  •  You can boil the basmati rice without the spices (cloves, cinnamon bark, and cardamom) and simply add these spices to the chicken along with baharat and turmeric.
  • Replace pierced black lime with black lemon powder, but use it with caution as it could be relatively strong.
  • I personally do not use cumin in this dish. There is enough cumin in baharat. A matter of taste, cumin identifies more with biryani. Ditto with ginger-garlic paste.
  • Add the chicken in batches if you are doubling the recipe.
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Bahraini Chicken Machboos

Chicken Machboos (machboos ad-dajaj)

  • Author: Magida
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


Spiced rice with chicken and spices from Bahrain, a country in the Gulf


  • 1 chicken (about 1.5 kg, cut into 8 pieces)
  • 2 large onions (chopped)
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tbsp baharat
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ cups peeled (chopped tomatoes or 2 small tomatoes)
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 black lemon (pierced once)
  • 2 pieces Cinnamon bark
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups basmati or long-grain rice
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste mixed with equal amount of water


  • Boil rice with cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon bark until rice is half done, drain.
  • In a deep pot, fry the onion in ghee until golden or light brown. Add baharat and turmeric and cook stirring for another minute. At this stage, the onion will darken more.
  • Add chicken pieces and turn twice, or until the juices come out.
  • Add tomatoes,  salt, black pepper, coriander and parsley leaves. Stir well to combine. Add ½ cup water – or less.
  • Cook for 15 minutes over low-medium heat, then add tomato paste mixture. Cook covered for another half hour over low-medium heat.  The sauce at this stage should be thick.
  • Add rice to chicken mixture; mix till rice is completely colored. Alternatively, arrange the rice and chicken pieces in layers ending with the rice.
  • Cover with towel or towel paper between the pot and its lid, and leave over very low heat for at least 10 minutes. Longer is better.

Keywords: chicken machboos, Bahraini spiced rice

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