Chicken Machboos, also known as "chicken & rice kabsa", is a popular rice dish from the Arabian Gulf. It is a fragrant one-pot rice dish that uses a lot of whole spices to infuse so much flavour! It is easy to make and typically paired with a salad to create a satisfying meal for the whole family. Let's walk through the simple steps.
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“So I made this tonight and it was absolutely delicious! I am not very domestic and even I was able to follow this recipe and impress my family! These tips really helped. We added fresh bread from our local Arabic store which was the perfect addition. bialeafiata!”—Lauren Holley
What is Chicken Machboos or Kabsa Rice?
The term 'Machboos' or 'kabsa' actually means 'pressed' in Arabic. It is the same word, but in two different dialects.
I have had my fair share of kabsa rice from authentic Kuwaiti restaurants in Kuwait. If you haven't tried it and you love Arabic and middle eastern rice dishes, this version is a must try!
I say "this version" because machboos or kabsa is cooked across all the gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. Each family may have its own version, but they all have a few things in common:
- A red-ish base of rice, cooked in the same pot as the chicken to extract all the flavour.
- Whole spices that must include the use of dry lime as a required ingredient! (But if you can't get your hands on it, it's still worth making this recipe without the dry lime.)
- Browned bone-in chicken pieces on top!
Now one thing to note: Machboos or Kabsa rice is different from Chicken Mandi. Both are rice and meat dishes, but they differ in the spices used and the colour of the rice. Mandi has a vibrant yellow colour and comes from Yemen, while Machboos is reddish brown in colour. I suggest you give Mandi a try too if you love Machboos.
Kabsa Rice's Special Ingredient: Dried Lime
Dried lime are what make Kabsa special. They are of Persian origin and widely used in Iraq and many gulf countries. Basically, they are limes that are boiled in a brine, then left out in the sun until they lose all of their moisture, turn a dark black colour, and become super hard!
Dried limes are typically pierced with a knife a few times and dropped into soups, stews and rice dishes to impart their deep sour and earthy flavour. They can also be ground up into a powder and used as a seasoning. I use it in this kabsa recipe, as well as in Chicken Mandi.
Ingredients You Will Need for Chicken Machboos
Here are the ingredients you need:
- Bone-in Chicken: You can use drumsticks, full chicken legs, or even a full chicken. It doesn't matter as long as you use bone-in chicken. I prefer to use pieces to make it easier to serve.
- Basmati Rice: Long grain rice is the best type for Machboos since it can withstand more moisture.
- Onions and garlic: finely chopped so they can melt away in the broth and flavour it.
- Tomato sauce and tomato paste: that's how we'll achieve a red colour for the rice.
- Whole spices: Bay Leaves, Cardamom, Cinnamon Sticks and Dried Lime. These are all essential to get a fragrant final dish, especially the dried lime! Try to visit your local middle eastern store to get some.
- Ground spices: salt, pepper, cardamom, allspice and cinnamon, to intensify the flavours of the whole spices.
How to Make Chicken Machboos - Step by Step
Step 1: Cook down the onions and garlic and toast the whole spices.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil, then the diced onions and crushed garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the whole spices and toast them for a few minutes.
TIP: Be sure to pierce the dry lime with a knife a few times to get optimal flavour.
Step 2: Add the tomato paste, sauce, and ground spices.
Next, add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Then, add the tomato sauce, the ground spices, and 1 cup of water. Stir to combine.
Step 3: Add the chicken and cook.
Add the chicken into the pot and cover them with the sauce. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the chicken and strain the broth.
Place the chicken in a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, then broil for a few minutes when ready to serve. Broiling gives it a great colour.
Strain the broth and discard the whole spices and onion. Keep the liquid for the next step.
Step 5: Cook the rice.
Place the broth back into the same pot, then add the remaining water to it. Add the rice, and mix very gently to incorporate the rice. Cover and bring the pot to a boil for 1 minute.
After a minute of boiling, bring the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered with a tight-fitting lid, and undisturbed. Do not open the lid while cooking the rice (this post on rice recipes explains why and many other tips on cooking rice!).
Step 6: Prepare the garnish and serve!
Toast the almonds with a little of oil in a skillet until golden. Add the raisins and warm through.
Serve the machboos by first adding the rice to a platter, then top with the chicken, then sprinkle with the toasted almonds and raisins.
Tips for making the best Machboos
Here are my tips to achieving the best Machboos or Kabsa! Following this recipe exactly to start with, but also the following:
- Lots of onions, but finely diced. Onions are the secret weapon for imparting a depth of flavour in a lot of rice dishes. So don't skimp on the onion and make sure you give them some proper loving and get them nice and soft and caramelized.
- Using good quality whole spices. This one is another major key, because that's where all the fragrance and flavour is coming from. Use fresh whole spices if you can from a good quality source.
- Using dried lime. Dry lime can be hard to find if you don't have an Arabic grocer in the area, but they are a key ingredient in Machboos. They're used a lot in Iraqi cooking as well, and they give a citrusy yet earthy flavour to the broth. If you don't have whole dry lime, you can use dry lime powder. If you really can't find it, you can skip this. It'll still taste great - but do try to get them!
- Cooking the chicken in the sauce. When the chicken is added to the sauce to cook, its picking up the delicious sauce flavour and also making the broth/sauce more flavourful. Bone-in chicken is preferred for extra flavour. Some people also keep the chicken in the pot and cook the rice with it, whereas in my recipe I remove it to broil it in the oven as we like it crispy.
- The right water to rice ratio. I use Basmati rice in this recipe, and although its usually a 1:1.5 rice to water ratio, because we are also using a lot of onions which release liquid, as well as tomato sauce, we need to use slightly less water. I've found the ratio listed in the recipe to be perfect for fluffy rice that isn't mushy. Be sure to measure accurately and keep the rice pot covered for the duration of the cooking time.
How to serve Machboos
To plate the dish, spoon the rice in a large tray or serving dish, removing the whole spices as you go. Then add the broiled chicken on top. Garnish with the toasted almonds or pine nuts and raisins.
Because there's so much flavour in the rice, I actually love to eat it as is. However, its typically also served with either plain yogurt, a yogurt cucumber salad, or with a simple Arabic chopped salad.
Watch me make it!
For more Middle Eastern Rice Dishes, check out:
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Chicken Machboos (Rice & Chicken Kabsa)
- 4 full chicken legs skin on, bone in (you can also use thighs - add 1-2 pieces per person)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 medium onions
- 4 medium garlic cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 dry limes substitute 2 teaspoons dry lime powder if unavailable
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 green cardamom pods
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2.5 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3.5 cups basmati rice long grain
- 4.5 cups water/broth *note 1
- ⅓ cup raisins
- ⅓ cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
- Start by preheating the oven to 400F
- Finely dice the onion and crush the garlic
- To a large non-stick pot, add the oil and heat for 1 minute. Then add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until slightly softened
- Add the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, dry lime, and bay leaves) along with the crushed garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, using a wooden spoon to smear the paste on the bottom of the pan and caramalize it
- Add the ground spices (salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice) as well as the tomato sauce and 1 cup of water. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes
- Add the washed chicken legs and cover them in the sauce mixture. Cover the pot and allow to cook for 20 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through
- Wash and rinse the rice several times until the water runs clear
- Remove the chicken legs, sprinkle with extra salt and pepper (if desired) and place them on a baking sheet lined with foil. To finish cooking them, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until juices run clear. Broil for 2 minutes to crisp the skin
- Add the rice to the pot along with the remaining 3.5 cups of water. Mix well but gently to incorporate the rice. Cover and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Once boiling, keep the rice covered, lower the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not uncover the rice before the 20 minutes
- Turn off the heat and let the rice stand for 5 minutes
- Toast the pine nuts in a skillet with ½ tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat, stirring constantly until golden. This should take no more than 5 minutes
- Remove the nuts and add the raisins using the same pan. Stir on high heat for 1-2 minutes to heat through and slightly caramelize
- Open the pot and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve in a large dish, with the chicken legs on top and garnish with the pine nuts/almonds and raisins
- The 4.5 cups of water is divided into: 1 cup to cook the chicken, then the remaining 3.5 after you strain the broth, add the broth back to the pot, then add the remaining water.
- If you don't have dry limes, you can skip it. It adds a unique depth of flavour that is hard to replace with other ingredients. I encourage you to find it from your local middle eastern shop!
- If you don't have full chicken legs, you can use thighs or drumsticks. I would not use chicken breast, dark meat will yield better results in this recipe