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Food Sunday: Moroccan Braised Chicken

I’ve become a huge fan of chicken legs lately. They aren’t dry and boring like some poultry cuts I know (ehem, chicken breast), they are cheap enough to justify spending those dollars you save elsewhere (like the wine aisle). They make for a handsome presentation, and they work wonderfully in braises.

Braising is something I’ve been doing a lot lately; maybe because of the change in seasons, or my new book on braising, or maybe just because it works so beautifully, and is so easy.

I tore this recipe out of Everyday Food, that pint-sized magazine which the grande dame of domesticity publishes. This is a magazine which I’ve been suspicious of in the past. The recipes always appear to be too simplistic. I can appreciate cutting a few corners for the sake of a quick weeknight meal, but microwaving a beef stew? A pea soup recipe with 4 ingredients? I have my doubts about these things.

Despite my snobbery, I thought this recipe look promising – it was short on ingredients, but you could tell it would be big on flava’. The chicken legs were braised with onion, prunes, and a trio of spices – tumeric, ginger and cinnamon. I took the liberty of adding some cayenne, some honey, and some cilantro to the braising mixture, and used chicken broth instead of water. The chicken is served alongside roasted carrots, dressed in lemon, olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper, and all this is set atop a bed of couscous, to which I added olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro. If you’re one of those people who has a thing against fruit and meat sharing a plate, then perhaps you could add some almonds, which would have been a great idea anyways, but as it was, this was an outstanding weeknight meal.

Moroccan Braised Chicken
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food

For Chicken:
2 Chicken Legs, trimmed of excess fat
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow or sweet onion, sliced to a medium thickness
Coarse Salt and Ground Pepper
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
10 pitted prunes
1-2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup cilantro stems and leaves, washed well
1 1/2 – 2 cups chicken broth
Toasted sliced almonds, (optional)

For Carrots
1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into large chunks
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (a good drizzle)
Course salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon

For Couscous
1 cup couscous
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Course salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the carrots with the olive oil, a few squeezes of lemon, and season with salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven to roast until cooked through and deeply browned, adjusting the heat if necessary. This will take anywhere from 20 – 40 minutes depending on your carrots. Keep an eye on them though – and turn the oven down if they are browning too quickly. When the carrots are done, toss them with additional lemon juice.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan to brown both sides until they are crisp, and golden brown. Set the chicken aside on a plate, and pour out all but enough oil and drippings to keep the bottom of the pan coated with fat. Turn down the heat and add the onions, seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute a few minutes, then add the spices, stirring to coat, and release their flavor. Place the chicken legs back in the pan, on top of the onions, and add the broth, prunes, honey and cilantro. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently.

Meanwhile, make the couscous. Place the couscous, olive oil, lemon juice, and cilantro together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the couscous. Cover with plastic wrap to steam.

The chicken is done when it’s cooked through – 20 minutes or more, depending on the thickness. To serve, place a mound of couscous in the bottom of a bowl (you want something to catch those juices!), place a chicken leg on each, and arrange the carrots, and prunes & onions from the sauce around the chicken. (I discarded the cilantro stems). Taste the sauce – if it’s weak, turn up the heat on your stove and reduce the sauce until thickend slightly. Pour the sauce around the chicken, and garnish with additional cilantro leaves, or almonds if desired.

Serves 2

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