Chicken Machboos, also known as Kabsa, is a popular rice dish from the Arabian Gulf made with either lamb or chicken. The term 'Machboos' or 'kabsa' actually means pressed in Arabic. It has slight variations from region to region. One thing remains common though: use of whole spices, and cooking the meat in the broth/sauce for the rice in order to get even more flavour.
I first discovered it in Kuwait where I visit quite often since my husband spent a good part of his teenage years there. Every time we would eat out at an authentic Kuwaiti restaurant, we would both always order Machboos. If you haven't tried it and you love Arabic cuisine and middle eastern rice dishes... I have humbly re-created it for you at home and I love my version of it. It's actually pretty easy to make, and it does come together quickly. Also, if you love lamb, you have to try my Lamb Kabsa too!
Now one thing to note. Machboos 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, while Machboos is reddish brown.
Some people also confused Machboos with Biryani. And while there are some similarities to the Indian or Pakistani version of Biryani, it's not even close to the Arabic / Iraqi version of Biryani which typically has more vegetables mixed into the rice.
Tips for making the best Machboos
Now hear me out: machboos is made in all kinds of ways throughout the Gulf, and I'm sure there are even variations from one family recipe to another. The basic elements are always there though: whole spices, rice, meat. This is my take on it and some of my tips to achieving a great tasting Machboos:
- Lots of onions. This tip actually rings true for me in many many Arabic dishes. 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 dry 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. Then 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 fresh vegetable salad such as Fattoush.
I really hope you guys give it a try. This dish is super comforting and we make it regularly. Usually there are no leftovers. If you try it, do give me your feedback in the comments, I'd absolutely love to hear what you have to say. Also send me a photo on Instagram!
For more Middle Eastern dishes, check out:
Watch me make it!
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Chicken Machboos (Saudi Arabian 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
- 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
- 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
This recipe sounds simply scrumptious
Amina Al-Saigh says
Thank you Marlene!
Delicious like all of her recipes!
Amina Al-Saigh says
Thanks for the great feedback Juweria! 🙂
Great recipe! I used 10-12 chicken thighs and reduced chicken cook time. The recipe made a lot of rice, so after finishing the chicken leftovers, we paired the rice with other meals this week! I was skeptical of not adding more water than the recipe called for, but Amina’s recipe was spot on!
Next time (there will definitely be a next tome!), I will deglaze the bottom of the pan when adding rice. Mine burnt a little bit - but only because I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough 🙂
Laura Holley says
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!
So glad you made this successfully and enjoyed it Laura! Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂
Wanted to thank you for sharing this brilliant recipe, I have tried it this Ramadan just passed when had people over and it was so tasty, everyone was so impressed!
All the best,
I had made this for iftar and it was PHENOMENAL!! I can’t wait to make this again!
This is the most delicious meal I've cooked in a while. Simply sensational. Everyone loved it at home. Thanks so much for sharing!!
I'm so glad you and your family enjoyed it Martin! Thanks for the feedback 🙂
Lilliana Kedzierski says
Am. I making sense?
Hi Lilliana - I'm afraid part of your comment probably didn't get posted?
This was delicious! I was always a bit scared of cooking Arabic food, but this one was so easy to make! My boyfriend (from Iraq) also loved it. Thank you!!
I'm so glad this worked out well for you Laura! I got your back when it comes to Arabic food 😉
I like the recipe (especially baking the chicken seperately) and will try it.
You might want to mention which of the ingredients are in powdered form.
I'm pretty sure these are all powdered but a novice cook may not know that.
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon black pepper
Great point Leslie - thanks so much for letting me know 🙂
How do you make all spice?
Jaime bautista says
Mouth watering recipe. Well demonstrated and easy to follow.
Thanks so much for the feedback Jaime! 🙂
Saraspathi Appavoo says
I tried this recipe first time cooking this dish it turn out well but I didn’t follow the measurements of water
So the rice was a bit soggy
Overall the taste was there
Thanks for recipe
I'm so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
Amazing once again Amina!!!!
I'm so happy you enjoyed it Hiba! 😀
Amazing recipe so aromatic and flavorful. Thank you!
I've never met a machboos recipe, I didn't love and yours is no exception. Amazing flavours, good technique and excellent presentation, if I could give more than 5 stars I would.
First time making this and recipe turned out great.
Sarah Salim says
This is such an easy and great recipe for Kabsa. I was afraid the flavors would come out too strong as I've never used dried limes before but everything was perfectly balanced. Saving this one for sure!
Thanks so much for the feedback Sarah - very happy you enjoyed it!
Super easy recipe and the flavours were on point. My picky kids wiped their bowls clean. This recipe is a keeper!
Wow - so happy to hear the feedback! Thanks so much and I'm glad your kids enjoyed it! 🙂
T Dubbs says
Followed the recipe to a T and it came out amazing!! Thank you!! Can I make using chicken breast?
I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it! You can use chicken breast, but it tends to dry out much easier if left too long in the oven than chicken thighs or legs. For best results, use legs/thighs but if you only have breast use it and just watch in the oven. It'll need less cooking time than what the recipe calls for as it will be boneless as well.
I’m no cook... wanted to give this a try and OH MY GOD!!!! Amazing!!! Easy easy! Just make sure you follow the steps and you got an amazing dish!!
Thank you so much for the lovely review Merwa! So glad you liked it! 🙂