Adapted from Staff Meals from Chanterelle, copyright 2000 by David Waltuck and Melicia Phillips (Workman, 2000).
Yield: Serves 4
This was one of Melicia's favorite staff meals to cook because the reaction is always so satisfying—the staff simply loves it. Now that Melicia is no longer at Chanterelle, I've taken her lead and continue to make it as part of the staff-meal repertoire. I think you, too, will find this unexpected use of couscous interesting and tasty. The couscous is stuffed underneath the breast skin so that with each bite you get a forkful of moist meat, fragrantly spiced couscous, and crispy skin.
For an attractive-looking presentation on the plate, serve the chicken with vegetables of contrasting colors, such as glazed carrots and steamed spinach.
1-1/2 cups couscous
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup very hot water
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1-1/2 tablespoons Madras-style curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Coarse (Kosher) salt
3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dried currants
2 whole chicken breasts (1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds each), with skin and bone
1. Place the couscous in a medium-size bowl and drizzle the olive oil over it to help keep the grains separate. Stir the couscous around until all the grains are coated with oil. Stir in the hot water.
2. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes more. Be careful not to brown the curry powder or it will become bitter.
3. Add the couscous to the skillet and mix well. Stir until the couscous is hot, about 2 minutes, then add the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the Tabasco, pine nuts, and currants. Taste the couscous; it should be highly seasoned. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°.
5. Rinse the chicken under cold running water, then pat dry with paper towels. Split each breast in half, making sure the skin is evenly divided between the two pieces. Starting from the wing socket, gently run your finger in between the skin and meat to make a pocket, being careful not to pull the skin away from around the edges.
6. Using a spoon, stuff the couscous under the skin, filling each breast piece nicely with a mound of the mixture. Try not to pull the skin away from the meat as you do this—but if you do, just smooth the skin over the stuffing as best you can. It's hard to do this neatly, but when you're finished, wipe off any couscous sticking to the outside of the breast.
7. Place the stuffed breasts on a baking sheet, dot them with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and sprinkle with salt. Roast until the skin is nicely browned and crisp and the chicken is done, about 30 minutes (the juices should run clear when a small cut is made in the thickest part of the breast). If the skin has browned well and the meat is still underdone, place a loose tent of aluminum foil over the chicken to prevent further browning and cook 5 minutes more before checking again. Serve immediately.
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