Road to Morocco...

It may be cliché, but one can really never have too many weeknight chicken meals. Chicken is a good source of lean protein, it cooks quickly, and there's frequently a deal on it at the grocery store. Justin and I probably don't eat as much chicken as many people do, just because both of us are a little squeamish about touching it in its raw state, but I've gotten much better about powering through the ick factor than when I first started cooking.

So when I saw an almost absurdly cheap price on boneless, skinless chicken breasts this week, I looked to Pinterest to find a new dish to try. I flirted with a few different ideas, but when I spotted a recipe I'd set aside for a Moroccan spin on mustard chicken, I knew I had struck gold. I must have saved at least half a dozen recipes for meat dishes involving mustard, because I know it's one of Justin's favorite condiments, but when I saw how positively he reacted to the Moroccan-inspired carrot dip I picked out for him as a snack, I thought perhaps the time for this particular recipe had come.

When most people think of Moroccan food, they think of tagines, hearty, spicy stews that are fully of rich meats, exotic spices, and briny preserved fruits and vegetables. This dish, on the other hand, is designed to be simpler and more delicate, which appealed to my sensibilities. It would still have the same warm spices as traditional Moroccan cuisine, and would still be served on a bed of cous cous, but a less overwhelming flavor profile than a classic tagine.

I liked this recipe because it came together quickly and simply, and it was easy to have it on the table by the time Justin walked in the door from work. In terms of flavor, I was reminded of another mustard chicken dish I've been making for years, almost since I first started teaching myself to cook. That dish is actually more complicated, and calls for browning the chicken, then simmering it in a sauce of mustard and heavy cream, and adding grapes for a touch of sweetness and a textural contrast. I found myself missing the textural contrast provided by the grapes in this variation, though I did enjoy the subtle heat of the Moroccan version.

In fact, there was something comforting about the simple combination of chicken, sauce, and pasta. The flavors weren't necessarily familiar, but the texture was reminiscent of any number of homey casseroles I've eaten in my day.

As for Justin, my intuition was correct: he loved this dish, and was psyched by the idea of eating it for lunch tomorrow. Any weeknight dinner that elicits that reaction merits a repeat performance, if you ask me. I can't promise that your significant other/brood of kids will feel the same, but it's certainly worth a try...

Spicy Moroccan Chicken with Mustard
adapted from the Boston Globe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 c. chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 c. heavy cream
Cous cous, for serving

1. In a bowl, combine the chicken and mustard. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. In another bowl, stir the tomato paste and chicken broth.
3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the chicken, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, cloves, and diluted tomato paste. Stir well. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the cream and stir well. Cook for 2 minutes or until hot. Serve over cous cous.

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