Most of our hands-on cooking classes at The Chopping Block focus on preparing several dishes which result in a delicious meal that our guests enjoy at the end of class. However, one question that we often hear is, “How do I get all of these dishes finished at the same time for a meal at home?” It was with this question in mind that we have started to offer a class titled “Quick and Easy Weeknight Meals,” and which I was fortunate enough to work recently.
The focus shifts just a bit so that our guests are put in the mindset that they are preparing meals, as opposed to dishes. Two complete meals are prepared in class (yes, our guests eat both!), with helpful hints, tips and advice not only on time management, but also on understanding cooking techniques, how long a cooked dish will hold, and recognizing what to look for to know a dish is done. The idea is that by the time class is over, our guests should be able to take the recipes home and prepare these meals on a weeknight in 30-45 minutes, with everything ready at the same time – which seemed to have everyone pretty excited!
As I was thinking about what to make for dinner recently, I thought it would be fun to write about it in the same way: not just a recipe for a particular dish, but how to make an entire weeknight meal in under an hour. At the center of this meal is a chicken recipe that we have enjoyed for years, sort of an “old standby.” Of course, it’s always easy to season some chicken with salt and pepper, toss on some herbs, put it on a sheet pan and roast it – and there’s nothing wrong with that! But this particular recipe uses some great spices and other ingredients so that you end up with an interesting meal in the end, one that is great for family or company alike.
This meal includes braised chicken thighs served over couscous, alongside a simple green salad of your own making (but I’ll give you the timing, along with some suggestions, so you won’t lose a beat!). The chicken and sauce are prepared in one pan. It should be big enough to fit 4 chicken thighs, plus sauce – and you will need a lid. I like to use my Le Creuset braiser for this: it heats evenly and can go from stove to table. The couscous will be made in a saucepan, and again will need a lid. Everything will be done on your stovetop.
The key spice that will take the chicken up a notch is garam masala. If you’re not familiar with it, garam masala is a blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian cuisine. The spices in the blend often include coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and/or ginger, which are usually toasted to enhance their flavor and aroma, and then ground. Garam masala adds layers of warmth, sweetness, and floral notes, as well as a touch of heat. There is no single garam masala recipe, as the ingredients differ by region and by family. That means, of course, that a version that I have may be different from a version that you may purchase. But they will be close enough for most purposes. Of course, if you want to get more adventuresome, you can always make your own to suit your own particular tastes!
Braised Chicken Thighs with Couscous
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Please let me say that I am generally a huge fan of getting all my mise en place (that is, gathering and measuring all my ingredients, also known as “mise” for short) together at the outset. But there is enough time to do this in stages as various components cook, so let’s use our time wisely and start with the chicken. You will need:
1 Tablespoon garam masala
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Large pinch of kosher salt
4 chicken thighs (I use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. You may use skinless thighs, if you choose.)
Set your pan over low heat, just to get it to start warming up while you prepare the chicken. Mix together the garam masala, cayenne pepper and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Pat the chicken thighs dry and trim any excess skin. This is most easily seen when the thighs are turned upside down, as shown below:
Rub the garam masala mixture over both the top and bottom of the chicken:
Set the chicken aside for 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat on your pan up to medium.
While your chicken is sitting with the spice rub and your pan is heating up, you can start on your mise for the sauté, so everything will be ready as soon as the chicken is done browning. You will need:
1 medium onion (think tennis ball size), diced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, either minced or grated, whichever is easiest for you
1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick
Keep the onion to one side on your cutting board; there's no need to dirty another bowl. Place the ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and cinnamon stick together in a small bowl.
Now your pan should be nice and hot. Pour enough grape seed oil (or other unflavored high-heat oil) into the bottom of your pan to generously coat it. Since the pan has been heating up, the oil will heat immediately. Add the chicken to the pan, skin-side down. Make sure you hear the sizzle! If you don’t, let your pan heat up a little longer. You are looking to get both sides of the chicken thighs to a nice golden brown; they will not be cooked all the way through. Total cooking time will be about 8-10 minutes. Here is a photo of the chicken once I flipped it so the skin is now on top:
You can now finish your mise while the chicken is browning.
In a small bowl, combine:
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon tomato paste (I never measure; “approximate” is good enough!)
Stir together until there are no lumps.
In a medium bowl, combine:
1 14-oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained & rinsed
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained (I just drain these right on top of the already-rinsed garbanzo beans and transfer both to the bowl in one step.)
1/2 cup chicken stock (store-bought or homemade)
A handful of pitted kalamata olives (about 20-25), cut in half
1 Tablespoon honey (just pour it in, again, “approximate” is good enough!)
1 lemon, ends sliced off, quartered & visible seeds removed (don’t worry if you don’t get all the seeds)
1 bay leaf
Here is what my finished mise looks like:
Your chicken will likely finish browning at about the same time that you finish your mise. Remove the chicken from the pan, but keep the pan on the heat. Since the lid of my pan is curved, I like to just use the lid to hold the chicken since I’m going to use the lid later on anyway – one less dish to wash! Otherwise, you can just use a plate. Since juices will drain out of the chicken, be sure whatever you use will contain them.
Scoop up the onions and add them to the pan. Sauté until they soften and become a bit translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and cinnamon stick. Sauté 30-60 seconds more until just fragrant. Little brown bits (known as “fond”) will begin to form while you are sautéing.
To melt the fond so it flavors the sauce, add the tomato paste/white wine mixture and scrape, scrape, scrape with a wooden spoon (a silicone spatula likely will not be able to scrape hard enough to get the fond up):
Let the wine simmer off until it is evaporated:
Now add the medium bowl with all the rest of the ingredients and stir to mix well. Nestle the reserved chicken thighs into the ingredients in the pan, and be sure to add back in any juices from the chicken. As soon as the mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and set your timer for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking you can prepare the couscous and salad.
In a saucepan, bring 1 1/4 cups of chicken stock (store bought or homemade) to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add 1 cup of couscous:
Cover the pan and set it aside. The couscous will be ready in about 5 minutes, but can sit until you’re ready to serve.
Make a salad based on what you enjoy. We eat a green salad almost every night, with a simple dressing of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I usually add something else, based on what I have on hand. Tonight I had some Campari tomatoes, so that’s what went in. For the dressing I use 3 parts olive oil to 2 parts red wine vinegar. This is really to your taste, some people like their dressing more acidic, others less so. It also depends on your olive oil and vinegar brands, as they vary in strength and flavor. So play with this a bit until you come up with something you like and can rely on. I just used a serving spoon as my “part” measure and added both to the bottom of the salad bowl: 3 spoons of the olive oil, 2 spoons of the vinegar. I then added the tomatoes and tossed them to coat. Over that, I tore the lettuce or other greens and sprinkled everything with several grindings of black pepper. I held off on sprinkling the kosher salt until I was ready to toss the salad, so that the greens wouldn’t wilt (salt will do that).
Finally, if you have it, chop up a little parsley for garnishing the chicken and couscous – making it all pretty is never a bad thing!
Once your timer goes off, check the chicken temperature. You want the thighs to be at least 165⁰ F. If they are not done yet, another 5 minutes should do the trick. Be sure to check the temperature again before taking them off the heat.
Now fluff the couscous with a fork just to loosen it up:
Finally, toss your salad (don’t forget the salt!).
For a casual dinner, you can serve the chicken right out of the pan. Just sprinkle with parsley and bring it to the table. Put the couscous in a bowl next to it, along with the salad.
On the other hand, if you want to dress it up a little, you can always put the chicken and couscous together on a platter and serve it with the additional sauce on the side:
Either way, I hope you enjoy this meal as much as we do!
The Chopping Block’s next Quick and Easy Weeknight Meals class is scheduled for Saturday, March 14. The two meals you will prepare and enjoy are:
- Seared Chicken Thighs with Pepper-Onion Sofrito and Rosemary Quinoa
- Ginger-Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Braised Red Cabbage and Mustardy Green Beans
Come see us – it’s a lot of fun!