Dreaming of Marrakesh (Braised Chicken with Couscous)

By • March 12, 2013 • 8 Comments

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Author Notes: On occasion we eat at a local Moroccan Restaurant that serves a family style feast. One of my favorite dishes is the Tagine of Chicken, Honey, and Prunes which is the inspiration for this dish. It has a lovely blend of sweet and savory, and is exotic enough to be special, but tame enough to be pretty universally appealing. I invited some apricots and oranges to the party to add a little extra flavor. I borrowed the Cook's Illustrated technique for cooking couscous (found in their Best International Recipes Cookbook), but used flavors to complement the braised chicken and dried fruit. Most of the ingredients can be found in the bulk bins, so if you don't have the spices, nuts, dried fruit, or couscous in your pantry you can buy just what you need to save on cost. Most of the work involved is at the front end with a short burst of activity at the end. There is about an hour of hands-off time in the middle allowing for clean up or other last minute party prep. The recipe looks long and intimidating, but is truly manageable. I've also made a half batch of the dish, so don't be afraid to scale down if you don't need as much food!hardlikearmour

Serves 8

  • 2 cans low-sodium chicken broth (3.5 cups), divided
  • 7 oz dried prunes (about 22 prunes)
  • 4 oz dried Turkish apricots (about 16 apricots)
  • 3 tablespoons mild honey
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 medium to large garlic cloves
  • 4 medium juice oranges (Valencias) (1 ¾ to 2 lbs)
  • 8 large chicken thighs (about 3 lbs)
  • Diamond kosher salt (if you have Morton's just use about 1/4th less)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander, divided
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin, divided
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (2.75 to 3 inch)
  • 3 cups couscous (the small style)
  • 1 heaping cup sliced almonds (4 oz)
  1. Heat ¾ cup chicken broth to a boil (either in a small saucepan on the stove or a 2-cup glass measure in the microwave). Set aside 16 prunes (with the apricots), and chop the rest. Add the chopped prunes and honey to the chicken broth then set aside. While you're at it, set aside the remaining cup of chicken broth in the opened can. (The reserved prunes, apricots, and chicken broth will be added to the braising liquid near the end of the recipe.)
  2. Prep the onions: Slice the onions in halves, then cut off the leaf ends of all of the halves. Cut off the stem ends from all but 1 of the halves. Dice the half with the stem end, reserving the diced onion for the later to use in the couscous. Discard the stem end. Slice the rest of the onions lengthwise into thin slices. If needed, review the processes for onion dicing and slicing, version 2 found here: http://food52.com/blog/3921-how-to-chop-an-onion . Set the onion slices aside.
  3. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves, set aside.
  4. Zest the oranges, and place the zest in a small bowl (there should be about 2 tablespoons). Juice the oranges, straining out the seeds. Add 6 tablespoons of the juice to the zest. Set remaining juice aside.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the orange zest and juice bowl. (I measure the spices for this step and the next at the same time, being cautious not to put the wrong measure in the wrong bowl. This step could also be done while the chicken is braising if desired.) Set aside for later use in the couscous.
  6. Combine 1 tablespoon kosher salt with ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne in a small bowl. Mix to blend well.
  7. Remove and discard any excess skin and fat from the chicken thighs. Pat thighs dry with paper towels, then season each side with the salt and spice mix (about ¼ teaspoon per side).
  8. Preheat oven to 300º F with the racks in the 2 lower positions. Heat a large (5 ½ quart) Dutch oven on medium-high. Add about ½ tablespoon olive oil (just estimate). When the oil just starts to smoke add 4 of the chicken thighs skin side down, and cook until skin is brown and crispy about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, and cook the remaining chicken thighs in the same fashion. Transfer to the plate with the rest of the chicken.
  9. Add the sliced onions to the Dutch oven, and stir until evenly coated and glossy looking. Lower the heat slightly. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons water to the pan, and scrape the bottom to pull up all the fond. Cook, stirring & scraping the bottom of the pan every couple minutes, until the onions are very soft and pale brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. They shouldn't be fully caramelized, but should all have a little color on them.
  10. Add the sliced garlic to the pan, and cook, stirring, until you can smell the garlic, about 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Add the reserved orange juice, and use it to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Allow it to come to a simmer, then cook for several minutes to reduce a little.
  11. While the orange juice is reducing, use an immersion (or regular) blender to blend the chicken broth, prune, and honey mixture until fairly smooth. Add it to the Dutch oven, and stir it in. Arrange the chicken thighs in the Dutch oven, skin side up. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the pre-heated oven. Set your timer for 60 minutes.
  12. When the timer goes off, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large stockpot or high-sided skillet. Once the foaming stops, add the couscous. Cook, stirring frequently, until the couscous is just starting to brown and smell slightly toasted or nutty, about 4 minutes. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl.
  13. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet, and when it is almost melted add the diced onion and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Cook stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and the butter is starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 3 ¼ cups water, plus the remaining can of chicken broth. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
  14. Once you've added the water, remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Put the almonds into the oven to toast. Remove the chicken to a plate, and tent with foil to rest. Add the remaining chicken broth from the first can, as well as the prunes and apricots to the braising liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Leave the pot uncovered, and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove the cinnamon sticks and taste for salt before serving.
  15. Once the water, broth, and onion mixture comes to a full boil, pour it into the bowl with the couscous. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 11 to 12 minutes, or until the couscous is tender. Fluff the couscous gently with a fork. Gently stir in the orange zest and juice mixture and the toasted almond slices, reserving a handful for garnish.
  16. To serve: Spread the couscous into a “bed” on a large serving platter or individual plates. Spoon the reduced braising liquid onto the couscous leaving some exposed couscous at the edges. Top with the chicken and scatter the remaining toasted almond slices on for garnish. (If you prefer you can plate the chicken before the braising liquid instead.)
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over 1 year ago creamtea

I'm dreamin'....about eating this.

Gator_cake

over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

It's a lovely dream!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Yum. I'm tired, can you come over and make this for me right now please????

Gator_cake

over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I wish I could instantly ship some of my leftovers to you!

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over 1 year ago gingerroot

This sounds fabulous! I'm with aargersi - if you figure out that instant shipping situation, I'd like some also, please.

Gator_cake

over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

:-)

Massimo's_deck_reflection_10_27_13

over 1 year ago lapadia

Such a catchy name & beautifully seasoned recipe; love the before and after photo!

Gator_cake

over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Thank you, lapadia! I plated out a single serving for the photo, then ate it for lunch while I was uploading the recipe. After I finished uploading the recipe I looked at the plate and thought it would make a good after photo!