Honey-Lemon Chicken with Apple-Squash Couscous and Shallot Gravy

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  6 servings
Prep Time:  40 minutes Cook Time:  1 hour 10 minutes

Honey-Lemon Chicken with Apple-Squash Couscous and Shallot Gravy

Inspired by food writer Claudia Roden’s Roast Chicken and her Chicken and Caramelized Baby Onions and Honey from her book, Arabesque, this recipe is great for a special fall or winter supper. Serve it with plenty of long-cooked or roasted greens and bread, and you’ve got quite a feast. I rarely suggest using instant couscous, but it works for this dish and is so easy. The sauce is really luxurious; it involves some classic French techniques that will layer flavors like crazy and and make this dish holiday worthy. This meal can be made as written below or over a few days; you can prepare the shallots and squash ahead of time, refrigerated in covered containers and reheated before you finish them.

Ingredients

Chicken:

3 whole small chickens (about 3 pounds or less each)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 (2-inch) pieces fresh ginger, peeled and grated  

¼ cup Savory Ras al Hanout

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 large lemons, washed and cut in quarters

1 large bunch thyme, divided into 3 portions  

4 tablespoons honey, divided

 

Gravy:

3 pound shallots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch chunks   

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup white wine, a fruity citrusy variety preferred

2 cups best-quality low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

Couscous:

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

9 to 12 ounces cut and peeled butternut squash (cut in ¾- to 1-inch pieces)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 cups best-quality unsalted chicken broth, divided

3 large tart and crisp apples  

2 teaspoons Savory Ras al Hanout

3 tablespoons honey

8 saffron threads 

3 cups couscous (regular size; not Israeli)

1 cup toasted walnut pieces, roughly chopped (see Kitchen Tips)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the chicken: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a rack into a large roasting pan and spray with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Pat the chickens dry. Place the chicken on the rack (see Kitchen Tips).
  2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the oil over the breast sides of the chickens. Then sprinkle them, inside and out, with the ginger, ras al hanout, and salt, dividing the spices evenly between them. Stuff the cavities with equal portions of the lemon and thyme. Truss the chickens (see Kitchen Tips) if desired. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. (They won’t be done at the end of that time. Don’t worry; there’s more cooking to come.)
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the honey and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and mix to combine. Set aside to use as a glaze for the chicken.
  4. While the chicken cooks (or the day before), start the shallots for the gravy: Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over high heat until it shimmers. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for 35 to 40 minutes, until they are a warm brown in color and very soft. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.  
  5. Start the couscous: Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet set over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the squash, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt, and spread the squash in the pan as evenly as possible. Sear on both sides, turning the pieces with a spatula when they begin to color. Add ½ cup chicken broth and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the squash is soft but not mushy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. Meanwhile, core and cut the apples into ½-inch pieces. Sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons of ras al hanout. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. When the oil is hot and shimmers, place the apples into the pan in a single layer and sear on the bottom for about 2 minutes. Drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over the apples. Then, with a spatula, turn the apples over and drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons honey over them. Cover and cook until the apples are soft but not mushy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  7. In a saucepan, combine 2½ cups chicken broth and the saffron threads, cover, and cook over high heat until the broth comes to a boil. Add the couscous, stir well, cover, and turn off the heat but leave the pan on the warm burner (see Kitchen Tips).
  8. Glaze and finish the chicken: Remove the chicken carefully from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 485°F. Liberally coat the chicken breasts with the honey and oil mixture. If the chicken is already very brown, loosely cover with foil and return the chicken to the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until  an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. (Check on the chicken’s doneness  by taking the temperature of the thigh meat without touching the bones.)
  9. Remove the foil for the last minute of cooking for a crisping blast. Transfer the chickens to a cutting board and let stand for 5 to 7 minutes before carving.
  10. Finish the couscous: Add the apples, squash, and walnuts to the couscous and  toss to incorporate.
  11. Make the gravy: Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Place the pan on the stovetop over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to combine and dissolve any lumps. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the flour is cooked through and blonde in color. Add the the wine, scrape the pan vigorously to get up the flavorful browned bits and pieces, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the liquid thickens considerably. Add the remaining 2 cups chicken broth, stir or whisk, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the caramelized shallots, stirring well.
  12. To serve: Cut the chicken in quarters. Spoon a generous serving of couscous on each plate and top each with piece (or 2) of chicken. Spoon 2 or 3 tablespoons of the gravy around the plate and serve immediately.

Kitchen Tips

  1. You can find toasted or roasted nuts in most supermarkets, but if you can’t, or if you prefer to roast your own, try The Weiser Kitchen’s Roasted Nuts recipe. If someone at your table is allergic to nuts, try toasted sunflower seeds instead.
  2. Here is a funny and informative video that shows How to Truss a Chicken from Chef Michael Ruhlman’s blog.
  3. If you have a couscousiere (the traditional Moroccan couscous steamer), by all means, get your heat-proof fingertips ready, steam and rub to get that incredible fluffy texture. Here’s a video to show you how from Williams-Sonoma.

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