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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moroccan Chicken Casserole with Zesty Couscous

A friend of mine called me in a flat-panic the other day; she had a ton of people coming over for a big dinner party and being a journalist/photographer/mother/wife/superwoman had stretched herself too thin leaving her not enough time or energy to get both her house and a two course meal ready for her guests. She called me and asked if I could help. Time and cost were important factors here so I had a little think and remembered this recipe I'd made for chicken casserole that is hearty and packed with flavour but doesn't break the bank, I then thought about a dessert that would pair up nicely with the main and have the 'wow' factor without costing an arm and leg, so I decided to make miniature tart tatins using nectarines.

I gave her a shopping list and dashed over to her house to help her out. The recipes can be made together in about an hour and a half when you make the meal for 4 people and a little longer when making the dish for a large crowd - they won't overwhelm you and it's hard to bugger them up which is always essential when your guests' arrivals are imminent. She filled up my wine glass (a prerequisite for helping her) and I got cooking while she got the finishing touches done to the long table before powdering her pretty nose.

The great thing about these recipes is that you can get everything done before the guests arrive; the tarts are delicious cold, the couscous is served at room temperature and if the guests aren't ready to eat by the time the casserole is, you can just turn the oven off and leave it to sit happily until they are. The total cost per head for the 2 courses is under R50 and it's visually stunning. If you're worried about the tart tatin part of the recipe you can just leave out the pastry, you simply marinate the nectarines in cinnamon/vanilla sugar with some lemon for 1o minutes and grill them until they're caramelised - simple and gorgeous. I've also given some alternatives for the the casserole if you can't find saffron or want to mix things up a bit.

Moroccan chicken casserole with zesty couscous
Photographs by Deborah da Silva

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • ½ an onion (sliced)
  • 1 red pepper (sliced)
  • 1 yellow pepper (sliced)
  • 1 Fennel bulb (thinly sliced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp saffron (dissolved in ¼ cup water)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 piece orange rind
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • ½ glass of wine
  • 1 packet pimento stuffed olives/deseeded green olives
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
250g couscous
Rind of 1 lemon
1 packet mint (chopped)
1 packet coriander (chopped)
1 sachet Ina Parmens chicken stock
80ml olive oil (mix together with chicken stock)
100g flaked almonds


Pre-heat oven to 190*C
Get a large pan, place on a medium heat with a little olive oil and brown the thighs. Remove and place in a large casserole dish.
Pour out most of the chicken fat leaving a little to cook the veg. Add onion, peppers, fennel, garlic and fennel seeds to the pan and cook until softened. (The onion and fennel should be almost translucent.)
Add the saffron water, bay leaf, tomatoes, orange rind, sugar, salt, pepper and wine and stir through.
Pour over the chicken pieces, add the olives and give it a good mix.
Cover with a lid/wax wrap/foil and bake for 30 min then remove the cover and give it a little stir.
Bake for a further 30 minutes.
Serve with couscous.

For couscous:
Pour couscous into a bowl and cover with luke-warm water to just above the level of the grain. (Using luke-warm water takes a little longer but ensures that the couscous stays light and fluffy rather than sticky, it should take 15 minutes.)
Put almonds in a non-stick pan on medium heat and stir continuously until golden on all sides, set aside.
Fluff up the couscous with a fork before adding the herbs, lemon zest and stock+olive oil.
Just before serving add the almonds and stir through.


If you can’t find saffron or fennel it’s not the end of the world, the beauty of this recipe is that you can mix and match, add and subtract ingredients to your liking, for example:
You can use fresh tomatoes instead of canned
You can leave the tomatoes out and add more wine.
You can use red wine instead of white if you prefer.
If you can’t find either coriander or mint you can substitute in other herbs: thyme, basil, parsley etc.
If you want to cook it before a party and warm it up in the oven/microwave just before eating that’s not a problem, or if it’s ready before your guests are ready to eat just recover it, turn the oven off and let it keep warm. (If the liquids reduce away just add a dash more wine.)

For Vegetarian version: replace chicken thighs with 800g diced butternut and use vegetable stock. 
For Wheat-free version: Use cooked basmati rice instead of couscous.

Nectarine tarte tatins

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
6 ripe nectarines (halved and pipped)
½ a roll of store-bought puff pastry (defrosted)
1 cup of sugar
Butter for greasing
Ice cream/clotted cream to serve


Preheat oven to 200*C.
Put halved nectarines in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for 5 minutes. Remove from hot water and place in a bowl/sink filled with cold water, leave for a further 5 minutes.
Gently remove skins and set aside.
Grease a muffin tray with a little butter.
Place a non-stick pan on medium heat and pour in sugar.
Leave for a few minutes until sugar begins to dissolve, then gently swirl the pan to incorporate all the granules. It should slowly be turning a golden colour.
Continue to do this until all the sugar is dissolved and begins to turn a darker caramel colour, then remove from the heat and place the bottom of the pan in cold water. (This stops the cooking process and prevents it from burning.)
Share the caramel between the 12 muffin cups.
Roll out the pastry and using a cup/glass that is a similar size to the muffin cups, cut out 12 circles.
Place a nectarine (flat side down) in each cup and cover with a circle of pastry. Push the pastry edges down to hug the sides of the nectarine and poke all over with a knife/toothpick.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. (The pastry should be lightly browned.)
Remove from the oven and using a knife, trace around the pastry lids to stop them from sticking to the casings.
Place a board/tray over the muffin tray and with gusto and great confidence flip it over with a good ‘thwack’. Gently lift the muffin tray and hopefully all of the tarts have come loose. (If one or two remain in the tray just use a knife to gently ease them out.
Serve warm or cold with ice cream/clotted cream.


For wheat-free version: Once you've halved and skinned nectarines simply dip them in a little cinnamon sugar and fry flat-side down in a hot pan until caramelised.