This is a fun dish, fairly quick, and sure to convince anyone who may doubt that couscous is an excellent add to a good meal. Based somewhat on middle eastern food, after all that is the origin of couscous, we will use the fun dark spices of your cabinet you may not use regularly for dinner, star anise, cinnamon and cloves, along with cumin, coriander, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. And of course, a healthy dose of garlic fills out the mix.
Couscous wraps are best served as a DYI meal to an extent. Kind of like a taco, it is best to let the diners build it themselves. In this case we are using a lettuce cup, so you want the warm food placed in the lettuce immediately before you enjoy eating it. So, plate up the warm ingredients, with the lettuce wraps on the side and let folks dive in, build their own and enjoy.
Ah yes, the food so nice they named it twice. We are assuming that most of you do not have a couscoussier… yeah neither do we. This is the original device that steamed the coarse semolina, the hard part of the already durable Durham wheat, to get it cooked. It took three passes, 15-45 minutes each, for the device to get you the nice fluffy couscous we love.
Enter quick or instant couscous, available in most groceries. It gives you nice fluffy couscous in about five minutes. Do not by a pre-seasoned mix for this, we will make the couscous fairly mild so it can take on the flavors of the chicken and the sauce. We will give it some special crispy crunchies for richness and for texture. In order to get the crispiness, we will approach this in two steps, cooking one quarter of the couscous then the other three quarters a bit later.
This dish is best served with a leafy lettuce like butter lettuce, red leaf, or even romaine if you want to something sturdier. The warm, not piping hot, food is put in the lettuce very much like the filling for a taco as we mentioned. You can also serve a sweet chili sauce to accompany the meal similar to taco sauce in use.
Butter and red lettuce will lend themselves to smaller amounts of filling because they are more delicate and prone to wilting. This makes it a one or two bite portion, so you may need more leaves. Romaine, in particular the lower part with a heavier spine, can accommodate more. The romaine heart leaves have great structure to hold food. With the larger outer leaves, you can cut across them into two pieces, one with spine, the other being leafier. Regardless, this is a fun way to enjoy a mix of flavors and textures in one meal.
Chicken with crispy couscous in lettuce cups
- Large bowl
- Lettuce of choice, 6-8 leaves per person
- 2 Cups Quick couscous divided
- 4 Tablespoons Butter divided
- ½ Cup Bread crumbs
- ½ Lemon juiced and zested
- 1½ Cups Chicken stock
- Cup Chopped cilantro divided
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1½ Pounds Boneless skinless thighs or breast
- ¼ Cups All-purpose flour
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Black pepper
- ½ Teaspoon Star anise
- ½ Teaspoon Cinnamon
- ½ Teaspoon Cumin
- ½ Teaspoon Coriander
- ¼ Teaspoon Cayenne
- ¼ Teaspoon Rround cloves
- ½ Red onion
- 8 Cloves garlic
- Tablespoon Olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons Butter
- ¼ Cup Chicken stock
- Rinse lettuce, separate leaves and refrigerate
- Heat ½ cup plus two tablespoons water to a boil with 1 Tablespoon butter
- Add ½ cup couscous and let sit for five minutes
- Remove couscous from the pot, spread on a plate and put in the fridge uncovered
- Cube chicken meat to ½ inch approximately
- Coarsely chop one red onion
- Coarsely chop 6 cloves garlic
- Coarsely chop cilantro
- Zest ½ of the lemon
- Juice the half lemon
- In a large bowl mix flour, salt, black pepper, star anise, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cayenne, ground cloves
- In a skillet melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium or medium low heat
- Add cooked couscous from the fridge and bread crumbs
- Cook stirring constantly until well browned
- When browned and butter is absorbed remove crumb mix to a paper towel and set aside
- Bring 1 ½ cups chicken stock to a boil
- Add lemon juice, lemon zest and remaining couscous, stir, cover, set aside
- Return skillet to medium heat add olive oil and red onion
- While that cooks, dredge the chicken in the flour mix until well coated
- Reserve 1 Tablespoon of flour mix and set aside
- When the onions are starting to turn clear add the chicken and the garlic, turn heat to medium low
- Continue cooking until chicken is nearly done, sprinkle reserved flour mix and stir well
- Add 2 tablespoons butter ¼ cup chicken stock, continue stirring while sauce begins to simmer
- Simmer for two minutes stirring regularly
- Remove chicken from the heat
- Add ¼ cup cilantro to couscous in pot
- Fluff couscous with two forks, blending cilantro into it
- Serve couscous to each plate, top with chicken and sauce
- Sprinkle each portion well with the browned bread crumb couscous mix, garnish with sprinkling of remaining chopped cilantro
- Add lettuce leaves to plate, serve, and enjoy
Tips and tricks
This seasoning comes out very similar to a garam masala type of curry flavor. If you happen to have that spice blend around already, feel free to use it for the chicken in place of the spices listed here. We are using a small amount of cayenne, and masala blends vary in their heat, so feel free to adjust accordingly.
When zesting a lemon and using the juice, it is much easier to do it in that order. Get the zest off the half of a lemon we call for in this recipe, then cut that half off and squeeze the juice. It is actually easier to squeeze the juice after you have zested much of the peel away. As always, squeeze juice through your fingers or through a strainer to keep the seeds out of the food.
As for bread crumbs, panko really is the best. The crumbs have naturally sharp surfaces which lend themselves to being crisped up delightfully. As a result, we recommend them, but standard bread crumbs will work just fine. In either case get an unseasoned variety. Also, be cautious when browning them, a little bit lower and slower can get better results, and avoid any scorching in the process.