I guess this Ramadan proves that I’m drawn to Mediterranean and North African food as my go-to cuisine for the month. Not sure why, exactly, but it has so many bonuses, so why not? The mixture of sweet and savory, the healthy and light fare offered, the aromatic spices used- yum, yum and more yum. So, yes, please.
The original recipe (called Djaj M’Ammar Bil Kesksou) calls for stuffing the bird (chicken, pigeon, squab) with the couscous mixture after the bird has been cooking for some time, but it also says you can place it on the side. Stuffing seemed a bit difficult to me because, well, dealing with a very hot bird and a very hot pan, I honestly had trouble maneuvering around to scoop the couscous into the bird’s cavity. So, I did the next best thing- put the couscous all around the bird and covered the pan while it cooked, hoping it would not burn or dry out the couscous. What resulted was a perfectly moist bird and nicely steamed couscous. I’ll be doing it this way again, insha’Allah.
So, here’s how it’s all done.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Prepare the chicken first by gathering the spices (ground cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, pepper), oil and honey that it will cook in first before placing the couscous that will also cook directly in the pot a bit later.
You’ll need something that’s not too shallow or not too deep, and definitely something that’s completely oven safe. I use the stainless steel Calphalon pans because they can go right from stove top to stove. You could also use a large tagine for this dish, which would actually be quite perfect. Just add them to the pan directly and combine.
Rub a whole chicken (or a whole one cut up) around in the mixture (olive oil, honey, cinnamon and ginger, salt, pepper). Toss it around and be sure you get the whole thing covered up. Add about 1/8 cup of water to the pan, too. This will help prevent burning or drying up of any of the ingredients.
The directions I’ve read all say to cook the chicken breast side down so that it stays moist and you can flip it later to brown it. I know, chickens look so funny in the pan, don’t they?
The problem I have with that is that the skin usually rips off and it doesn’t look presentable. What I do instead is cook it the whole time, breast side up, but I cover it during the last 40 minutes of cooking. Comes out great- super moist and it’s nice and browned all over. I’ve done it both ways, which you might notice here.
So, while the chicken is cooking, prepare the couscous by adding water and salt to it.
Let it stand for about 5 minutes so it can thicken. I love how quickly and easily this happens! You can sort of tell it’s ready for more by fluffing it up with a fork. That’s when it’s ready to have the other ingredients added to it, before it goes into the pan with the chicken.
Like the olive oil.
And cinnamon, sugar, orange blossom water.
And you can’t forget about the mixture of dried apricots, prunes (or raisins), and dates.
The almonds, sautéd in butter, is probably my favorite part- it’s what truly adds all the flavor. So, sauté the almonds in butter for about 2-3 minutes, watching carefully so they do not burn.
Pour onto the couscous mixture.
Add a little fresh or dried citrus zest, if you have it. I think it makes a difference.
Leave this aside until the chicken cooks for a full 50 minutes. Flip the chicken (if you decide to be a flipper), and cook for an additional 10 minutes before adding the couscous.
Now place the couscous in the pan around the chicken. Add several pats of butter to the couscous.
And cover with a lid or foil. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes at the same temperature.
In this picture you can see what happened when I flipped the chicken, as the skin is coming off. Still good, still moist, though.
Everything is so nice and browned. You can even cover the wing tips with foil if you don’t like them browning more than the rest of the chicken, or you can tuck them to the inside of the bird with bakers twine.
Smelling this dish was an experience in and of itself. The cinnamon, the apricots, the citrus- they provided my kitchen with the most pleasant aroma it’s had in quite some time.
You can serve directly in the pan, which is nice and rustic, however, if you decide to plate it nicely and neatly that’s great, too. It all comes out so softly. What, with all that butter?
Today’s recipe is sponsored by Zabiha Halal, a Canadian company that produces halal-certified (US and Canada) and hormone-free poultry products such as this whole chicken pictured below, as well as fresh leg quarters, and even all natural and nitrite/nitrate-free deli meat like chicken breast or smoked chicken breast . You can learn more about Zabiha Halal on their website and even enter for a chance to try their products for FREE in this giveaway. They’re also offering a pretty grand contest on their Facebook page where you could win a trip worth $10,000 to anywhere in the world. That’s pretty grand…
Do check out their products and use this recipe as an excuse!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 whole chicken or one chicken cut up (about 3 pounds each)
- For the Couscous
- 1+ 3/4 cup couscous
- 1 + 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cane sugar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup raisins, prunes, dried apricots, dates (each or a combination of all)
- Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- To an oven-safe dish or pan, add the olive oil, lemon juice, ground cinnamon and ginger, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and rub it around it the spice and oil mixture.
- To a large dish add the couscous, the water and salt. Let it sit for about five minutes. Once the couscous has fluffed up, add the remaining ingredients (sugar, olive oil, ground cinnamon and orange blossom water).
- Flip the chicken, if desired. If not, let it cook for an additional 10 minutes.Add the couscous mixture all around the chicken. Add a few pats of butter on top of the couscous. Cover with a lid or foil and return back to the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove and let cool slightly before serving.