Salsa Couscous Chicken

Somehow, we haven’t actually talked about couscous, yet.

Couscous by ayustety, on Flickr (CC license) (cropped)

Originating with the Berbers of Northwest Africa somewhere between the 10th and 13th centuries, the original couscous (from the Berber word seksu, or “well-formed”) was made with millet and took a great deal of time to form. These days, we’ve got wheat and machines to do the work for us, but the basic system is the same.

Originally, coarsely-ground millet would be moistened with water, then rubbed between the hands with finely-ground millet until it formed little balls. These would get dropped into the sieve-like top of a stew pot, which would then be given a good shake or a stir. The couscous that stayed in the top was ready; anything that fell through was too small and was re-moistened and rolled in dry flour again, with the process repeating until there was enough for the meal.

The couscous would then be tossed with oil and piled into the sieve-like top of the pot (which we now call a couscousiere) and a stew would be prepared in the bottom. The steam rising from the cooking food would cook the couscous.

Couscous was known to Italy by the 16th century and to France by the 17th century. For some reason, the English-speaking world has had trouble figuring out that couscous is a pasta. For example, consider this mention in the March 4, 1848 edition of The (London, England) National that seems to be describing fufu (mashed cassava, corn, or wheat flour):

The Couscous of the Negroes on the coast of Africa is a grain, which the women grind by rolling a great stone in a piece of wood hollowed out, and then boiling it. This is the principal food of the people. In the same manner the Polenta of the Italians, which forms a large part of the food of the peasantry, is maize, or Indian corn, boiled into a sort of porridge, and in some remote places in Italy it is impossible to procure any other substitute for bread.

To be fair, this is probably (indirectly) the fault of the Portuguese and the French. The former visited the coast of Africa in the 16th century and named a shrimp-filled river Rio dos Camarões (“shrimp river”), which became Cameroon in English. When the latter got there in the 19th century and encountered fufu, the French analogized it to something they knew and called it couscous de Cameroun.

Evidently, that confusion continues in this entirely couscous-free recipe.

From a box sold in East Moline, Illinois.

Salsa Couscous Chicken

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. coarsely chopped almonds
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 c. Old El Paso Thick ‘n’ Chunky Salsa
1/4 c. water
2 Tbsp. dried currants
1 tsp. honey
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 c. cooked rice

while rice is cooking, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add almonds. Cook 1-2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove almonds from skillet with slotted spoon. Set aside.

Add garlic to skillet; cook and stir 30 seconds. Add chicken, cook 4-5 minutes or until browned, turning once.

In medium boil, combine salsa and all remaining ingredients. Mix well. Add to chicken; mix well.

Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear. Stir in almonds.

Serve over rice. Serves 4.


Yesterdish suggestion: While I’m sure it’s tons of fun to remove chopped almonds from hot oil with a slotted spoon, I’d probably suggest toasting the almonds in a dry pan, then pouring them out into a heat-proof bowl and going on with your recipe.

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