Salsa Couscous Chicken OR Moroccan Chicken: One Award Winning Recipe, Many Names

Today on Serious Eats, White Bean Puree with Poached Eggs, one of the easiest and tastiest comfort foods I’ve made in ages.

While it’s sweet having friends who read, it’s even sweeter having friends who’ll lend you their reading material. Borrowed books are how I discovered Philip Roth and Toni Morrison, Betty Smith and John Irving, Art Spiegelman and uh, Stephenie Meyers. (What? I like vampires that sparkle.)

Recently, my pal Mo lent me a bunch of tomes on multitudinous topics: plastic bottles, Batman, herb gardens, some chick with a dragon tattoo, etc. Her collection is as vast as her little boy is adorable. Which is to say, hugely.

The last one was called The Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoir. Written by Washington native Ellie Matthews, it chronicles her victory at the 1998 Pillsbury’s Bake-Off, along with the ensuing whirlwind of publicity. Thanks to a simple dish called Salsa Couscous Chicken (later renamed), Ellie walked away with a million bucks, an appearance on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and poultry immortality.

You know how everyone has one great story? One tale that’s a bit of a jaw-dropper? (Mine = worst date ever.) This is Ellie’s. The story itself isn’t a rip-roaring, Indiana Jones-style roller coaster of action, but it’s a neat read, because she’s so dang easygoing. By the end, you wanna sit down and knit a blanket with her. I think that’s a good thing.

At the conclusion, she includes the recipe for Salsa Couscous Chicken. Being inexpensive and relatively healthy-looking (not to mention a contest winner), I had to try it.

The first go-round was a disaster. I used bland (mild) salsa, never got the pan hot enough, and tripled the water. Essentially, I proved myself the fool making a supposedly foolproof recipe.

The second time, though? Sweet n’ spicy triumph. The cinnamon and cumin temper the salsa’s heat. The raisins plump when you cook ‘em. The almonds provide crunch, a valuable textural variation in the midst of so much moistness. Speaking of that moistness - the chicken cooks perfectly, remaining juicy and flavorful, as if it’s been braising for hours.

A word on the calculations: the official recipe/book and Recipe Zaar list different nutritional numbers, probably due to chicken thighs of varying sizes. (It rhymes! Kind of!) So, I did my own math. My thighs averaged out to 5.6 ounces each, raw. For me, that’s a lot of meat. For Husband-Elect, that’s not quite enough. Consequently, my numbers are split into four, six, and eight servings.

Next time you’re looking for inspiration (chicken-related or otherwise), check your friends’ libraries. You never know what you’ll find next to Twilight. (Uh ... look! A shiny thing! *runs away*)

If you like this recipe, you might also like:

Salsa Couscous Chicken OR Moroccan Chicken (Depending)
Serves 4 to 8
Adapted from Ellie Matthews, via Pillsbury.

1 cup uncooked couscous or rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 5 or 6 ounces each)
1 cup bottled salsa, medium heat
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons raisins
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1) Cook the couscous or rice according to package directions. Set aside.

2) In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add almonds. Cook, stirring occasionally. Once browned, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3) To the same pan, add garlic. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, until fragrant. Add chicken. Cook about 5 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Meat should be slightly browned when finished.

4) While chicken is cooking, combine salsa, water, raisins, honey, cumin, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir.

5) Add salsa mixture to pan. Stir to combine. Cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it’s getting a little dry, add water as you go along. Chicken should be cooked through when finished. If not, give it another few minutes.

6) Serve chicken over rice/couscous. Top with sauce. Sprinkle with almonds.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
4 servings: 666 calories, 19.9 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, $2.18
6 servings: 444 calories, 13.3 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, $1.46
8 servings: 333 calories, 10 g fat, 1.7 g fiber, $1.09

1 cup uncooked couscous: 650 calories, 1 g fat, 8.7 g fiber, $1.30
1 tablespoon olive oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.12
1/4 cup slivered almonds: 170 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g fiber, $0.47
2 cloves garlic, minced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.08
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs: 1512 calories, 49.6 g fat, 0 fiber, $5.06
1 cup bottled salsa, medium heat: 70 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $1.45
1/4 cup water: 0 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.00
2 tablespoons raisins: 65 calories, 0 g fat, 1 g fiber, $0.11
1 tablespoon honey: 64 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.10
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.03
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon: 3 calories, 0 g fat, 0.6 g fiber, $0.01
TOTALS: 2662 calories, 79.6 g fat, 13.5 g fiber, $8.73
PER SERVING (4 servings): 666 calories, 19.9 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, $2.18
PER SERVING (6 servings): 444 calories, 13.3 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, $1.46
PER SERVINGS (8 servings): 333 calories, 10 g fat, 1.7 g fiber, $1.09