Families are funny things, aren’t they? While scratch-your-eyes-out loyal if anyone dares speak an ill word about one of our own, we are the first to voice an opinion about cousin Betty’s latest binge drinking session as soon as we can grab a second alone with a familial accomplice. My family is no different. So it was that I discovered what my family had been whispering amongst themselves over wine glasses in kitchens and murmuring to one another on tee boxes while taking practice swings: I had somehow achieved the dubious honour of being branded the couscous pusher in our family. There I was, happily dishing up fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks over steaming piles of fluffy couscous, when I noticed a distinctly uncomfortable silence fall over the table. The same sort of silence you feel in that moment just after the drug addict has made himself comfortable in the cushy armchair, but before someone clears their throat to tell him that the tea party he’s been invited to is actually an intervention. Uncle T steepled his fingers together (as he always does when he has something uncomfortable to say) and with a sideways glance at my equally unimpressed looking brother said, “What is this shit now again?”. Around the table there was a lot of looking in laps, and readjusting of wine glasses, but when no one backed him up he continued: “Uncle G says you’re always trying to get us to eat couscous”. Now, please note that – whilst true – the last time I had attempted this feat was Christmas 2007, when I had tried to slip some of the little granules past everyone by disguising them amongst cubes of roasted butternut and crumbly feta while they read out loud to each other those terribly lame jokes that come in the crackers. But it mattered not. I had become the couscous pusher. And with good reason I suppose. See, I believe the much maligned couscous has had a bad rap. When it was first introduced to our shores, it was inevitably prepared by uninformed housewives who dumped too much cube derived chicken stock over it in sufficient quantities to turn it into a crumbly heap of mushy sludge more closely resembling wallpaper glue than a fluffy accompaniment to a lamb tagine. This really is a grossly unfair representation of what couscous could be. Really, if you think about it, when it is prepared correctly, what’s not to love? Tiny granules of al dente semolina that slurp up all the flavours you throw at them, couscous is the caviar of pasta. Add to that, it requires no more than a spoon to eat, so it is perfect comfort food. I have therefore made a mini mission out of turning couscous into a dish everyone could love, instead of just an ineffectual projectile weapon in a B-grade movie. This dish might not complete my life’s work, but it is one of my favourites.
Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest
Comfort in a bowl.
- 4 chicken thighs, skin on
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup raw couscous
- good quality chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tin chickpeas, drained
- 2 heaped tablespoons of basil pesto
- zest and juice of one lemon
- 1 or 2 rounds of plain Greek feta
- Season the chicken on both sides. Cook in a dry pan over medium heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and shred into bite sized pieces, discarding the bones.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and return the chicken to the pan. Sprinkle over one tablespoon of seasoned flour and stir through to incorporate all the fat and juices and yummy caramelised bits on the bottom. Fry until crisp.
- In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of raw couscous with chicken stock and prepare as per the instructions on the packet (different brands require different cooking methods and times.) Do not add more stock than the instructions say, or you’ll land up with the aforementioned wall paper paste.
- Add the chicken to the couscous and stir through.
- Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat and add the garlic, frying for a minute.
- Add the chickpeas to the garlic and fry for two minutes. Turn the heat down to low.
- Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil pesto to the chickpeas and warm through. Add to the couscous mixture and stir through.
- Crumble the feta into the couscous and stir through. Adjust seasoning and serve.
Serving size: 2