When what’s for dinner is too much to ask

Chicken & Couscous

Take a nice bike ride (26 miles), add in a strenuous hike, throw in a bit of gardening, and then maybe a bit of desk work. Eat only hot cross buns, caffeine, and a bit of leftover pizza. Then tell me if you feel like making something nutritious and filling for dinner. Because if you’re me, you’re going to be mighty grumpy well before 7 pm.

Prep

Given that most Sundays happen to look fairly similar to my little checklist above, I’ve learned to have a few tricks up my sleeve. Yes, cookies are involved, but only for the pre-dinner prep. For the actual meal, there are protein, carbs, veggies, and some sort of liquid, and they all get thrown into a big, sturdy pot rather haphazardly (I am amazingly uncoordinated when I’m hungry). Sounds appetizing, right?

Prep

Despite its somewhat rough origins, this dish still manages to get a bit of praise every time, in all of its various guises. I highly recommend trying this at least once, as it’s quick to actually prepare, and can be customized to your taste. Use the recipe below as a rough guide for making this dish your own.

I haven’t forgotten about the baking post I promised. It’s coming along, though it’s taking a bit longer than I thought. As with everything else in life, it seems!

Baked couscous, chicken, and porcini mushroom

Serves 2, with plenty of leftover couscous and vegetables.

This recipe is not a recipe. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but I have probably made hundreds of variations of this dish over the years. It’s easy, delicious, and is probably the best way to make use of the fatty chicken skin without totally ruining your diet. I’ve used anything from Indian spice packets to really nice red wine in this combination (not together, of course) for flavoring, and have thrown in all sorts of vegetables. Potatoes are particularly noteworthy additions, if you slice them thin and lay them under the chicken (use thighs for a bit of extra richness).

Yes, it takes a while for this to cook, but it is virtually attention-free time. You can also do this in a slow cooker, on low, for 6-8 hours (yes, just start it before you leave for work, and you’ll be able to come home to dinner if you happen to work less insane hours than most grad students I know). It reheats really well, so it’s a good way to ensure that you’ll eat well even if you’re facing a crazy week.

  • 2 free range, organic, bone-in chicken breasts. I cut up my own chicken, using instructions from a CIA knife skills book that doesn’t seem to be available anymore. This is why the internet is such a great thing, right?
  • 1 c. Israeli couscous. You can use any type of couscous, or even bulgur or rice here. This is a formula, not a recipe, remember?
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced.
  • 2 carrots, sliced.
  • 1 onion, sliced or chopped (depending on individual preference).
  • Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted, plus liquid.
  • 1 c. red wine (plonk will do just fine).
  • Water to cover the couscous.
  • 2 T. dried or fresh rosemary.
  • slices from 1 lemon. If I hadn’t already used the zest, I would have peeled it off of the lemons and tossed the pretty yellow lemon ribbons in with everything else.
  • 3-4 sprigs parsley.
  • salt and pepper, to taste.

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place the couscous in a heavy, lidded, oven-safe dish (cast-iron or glass). Throw in the vegetables and mushrooms so they’re fairly evenly distributed across the couscous. Cover with chicken (brown it in a bit of oil first if you like things a bit less pale), then pour in liquids, add salt and pepper, cover with lemon slices and parsley, cover, and place in the oven. Bake for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on your schedule, the grain you’re using, and the size of your chicken breasts. You might want to take the lid off for the last 10 minutes, to brown the chicken skin a bit. When you think it’s done, make sure the chicken is cooked through using a meat thermometer or by cutting into them and making sure the juices run clear. Also, check the grains; they should be soft. Once everything’s done, serve immediately, in a lovely jumbled mess.

I took out the parsley before serving, because it had dried out a bit. I might stuff it down a bit further, or actually bother to chop it up, if it’s not too much work for me…

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Filed under chicken, Israeli couscous, main, mirepoix, porcini mushrooms

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