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Summer Couscous With Chicken Platter (c)2011

Summer Couscous With Chicken Platter (c)2011

Happy Friday! I’m so excited to share this Moroccan inspired summer couscous recipe with you! When I set out to develop a couscous recipe I wanted something summery and light but still satisfying. Many of the Middle Eastern braised meat recipes I came across used lamb and seemed too filling and spicy- more suited to autumn and winter. Morocco is famous for dishes that are more delicate and floral in aroma, unlike fiery Tunisian cuisine. The flavors of my Summer Couscous with Chicken & Apricots are sweet, floral, and fruity. I decided to use chicken thighs because they aren’t as heavy as lamb or beef, but still provide a savory sauce for the couscous. While wandering through the Boulder Farmers Market, the apricots at Morton’s Orchard stand caught my eye. The season for stone fruits is just really getting going here in Colorado, and I can’t resist the allure of blushing pink apricots. I add the apricots at the end of the cooking so they don’t break down into mush. The apricots only need be warmed through, still juicy and firm when the meal is served. I also picked up some Cinnamon Cap mushrooms from the Hazel Dell farmstand. It was their rusty yellow/brown color and shape that inspired me. You could substitute any sturdy mushroom for the cinnamon caps in this recipe.

After the market I stopped in the Savory Spice Shop to see Dan Hayward, the owner. I knew he would help me figure out the right spices to add to my couscous. Dan steered me towards a Savory Spice blend called Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning. He held out the jar for me to smell- it was sweet and floral with aromas of cinnamon and cardamom, as well as a slight heat from paprika and spice of ginger. The Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning** was the perfect thing to add depth to my couscous. As I left Savory Spice Shop I made sure to grab a bottle of orange flower water, another Middle Eastern staple, for my couscous.

I hope the recipe looks straightforward, because it’s not complicated to put together. I decided not to fuss with the couscous itself, just cook it simply in water. Instead I focused on creating a flavorful broth to be served over the couscous and chicken at the table. Making this recipe is a matter of browning the chicken, then adding onions, mushrooms, spices and chicken stock to the pot and simmering it for twenty minutes. The chickpeas are added at the end of cooking because canned chickpeas break cook and break down quickly. A few drops of orange flower water at the end creates a lovely aroma but is not necessary to the success of the dish. Summer Couscous with Chicken & Apricots is a great dish for serving company- all the work is in assembling the ingredients and the meal is best served family-style on a big platter. Two cups dry couscous cooks seems like a lot, but it makes for generous servings and a nice presentation on the platter. I hope you allow this recipe to inspire you to try something new. Using a new spice blend or an unusual ingredient like orange flower water is a great way to shake things up and wake up your palate.

Summer Couscous With Chicken & Apricots (c)2011

Summer Couscous With Chicken & Apricots (c)2011

Summer Couscous with Chicken & Apricots

serves four to six people depending entirely on how many chicken thighs you have.

  • olive oil
  • 6-8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound cinnamon cap mushroom, brushed clean and trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade)
  • 3/4 teaspoon Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning (Savory Spice Shop)**
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 fresh apricots, blanched and peeled, quartered***
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • orange flower water, just a few drops
  • a handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup almond slices, toasted

Brown the chicken: Warm a splash of oil in a heavy bottomed stew pot over medium-high  heat. You want to get the oil very hot but not smoking so the chicken skin will sear. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and season with salt. Place the chicken in the hot pan skin side down and leave it undisturbed for a few minutes (4). Check to see if the skin has turned a deep caramel color and if so, turn it over and brown the other side. Work in batches, cooking only 3 or 4 pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Remove all browned chicken from the pan and set it aside on a plate.

Turn the heat down to medium-low. Toss the onions into the hot pot and sweat for about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute. Add the mushrooms with sprinkle of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn up the heat a bit so you can deglaze the pan. Pour 1 1/2 cups chicken stock into the pot and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Bring the stock to a simmer and stir in 3/4 teaspoon Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning. Put all the chicken thighs back into the pan with the mushrooms and simmering stock. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking prepare the couscous. Bring 2 1/2 cups water to a boil and pour over the 2 cups couscous in a medium pot. Cover with the lid and let sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and season with salt.

Once the chicken is cooked remove it from the pot to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Toss the chickpeas into the pot with the stock and mushrooms. Heat until warmed through, then stir in  the apricots. Taste the broth for seasoning and adjust as necessary (more salt? more Tan-Tan?). Stir in a bit of orange flower water, just a drop or two at a time, then taste. Orange flower water is potent and a little goes a long way. Once the broth is seasoned to your liking, it’s time to eat!

Mound the couscous onto a big platter. Place the chicken atop the couscous. Now, you want to separate the broth from the mushroom/apricot/chickpea mixture. {Couscous is very absorbent, so it’s best to pass the broth in a gravy boat at the table for everyone to enjoy. If you pour the broth over the couscous now, it will absorb entirely in just a couple of minutes.} Spoon out the mushrooms, apricots, and chickpeas and arrange them on the platter with the chicken. Pour the broth into a gravy boat and put it on the dinner table. Garnish the platter of chicken and couscous with fresh mint leaves and almonds. Serve the platter at the table, allowing everyone to help themselves and pass the gravy around.

Summer Couscous With Chicken Platter (c)2011

**You can purchase Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning from the Savory Spice Shop online here or you can just take some inspiration from the ingredients in the blend and make your own spice blend. Spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, paprika, sugar, turmeric, cumin, and coriander go nicely with couscous. 

***When cooking with apricots, it’s best to peel them first. Get a pot of water boiling, make a little “x” on the bottom of each apricot with a knife and drop it into the water for a minute or so. Remove the apricots from the boiling water and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Now the apricots will be easy to peel and cut into four chunks.