Sautéed Chicken with Zucchini and Couscous Recipe

Any chef will tell you that one of the most important ingredients in a well-stocked kitchen is a steady supply of good, high-quality chicken stock, on hand at all times to go into dishes from soups to sauces.

Most traditional chicken stock recipes call for cut-up chicken carcasses added with vegetables and water, then simmered for eight hours or more. Many restaurants simmer their stock overnight and have a stockpot going 24 hours.  The long slow simmering extracts flavor from bones without making the stock bitter, which happens if the stock is boiled. Here in Alaska, for many of us, simmering something on the stove for eight hours or more can mean heavy propane use. For those who live like I do, flying in a 100-pound bottle of propane, unloading it from the airplane, hauling it up to the house — and doing the reverse when the bottle is empty — makes some styles of cooking impractical.

I have two chicken stock recipes to recommend for those conserving energy. These are great recipes for other reasons as well, like good flavor and time management. The first involves chicken wings, and the second involves a pressure cooker.

Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten is somewhat of a hero of mine. He grew up in a part of France that I admire. He worked at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok where I spent many a childhood Saturday ordering gourmet burgers with Swiss cheese. He has successful restaurants around the world, and he writes good cookbooks.

In Vongerichten’s cookbook “Simple to Spectacular”, there is a recipe for a one-hour chicken stock. It basically requires:

  • 1/2 of an onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 pounds of chicken wings, cut up
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of a celery stalk, chopped
  • 1/2 of a leek, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • A bay leaf
  • A small handful of peppercorns
  • Some thyme

Stick the cloves into the onion, throw it and all the other ingredients into a large saucepan, and cover with 6 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for an hour. Skim any scum (it’s just protein, but it makes the stock cloudy) that accumulates on the surface. Vongerichten explains that the best chicken stock should taste like meat, not bones, and using chicken wings offers an efficient combination of both of those.  Put the cooled stock in the fridge and skim off the fat that solidifies on the top. The stock will stay good for 3 days. It will stay good even longer if you bring it to a boil every three days. Or, you can freeze it.

The second stock-making tip is not so much a recipe as a technique — using a pressure cooker. Pressure cooking the chicken-wing and vegetable combination will reduce the time necessary for making delicious chicken stock to 30 minutes.

Every pressure cooker operates a little bit differently and this is one device that you should read through the instructions carefully and hang onto them. Basically, use the same ingredients as above and put them into a pressure cooker. Seal the pot and bring it up to 15 pounds of pressure.  A key point in making stock is to not fill the pressure cooker more than half or two-thirds full, so there is plenty of room to generate steam.

Reduce the heat on the stove after pressure is achieved to just maintain that 15 pounds of pressure. It might sound complicated, but it really isn’t. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker cool gradually (versus turning the valve to release the steam all at once). Remove the lid from the cooker carefully, and only after the pressure button has released (on my model, it’s a little red button).

To make a richer, deeper stock, you can brown the chicken wings first. Coat the wings in a little extra-virgin olive oil, place them into a roasting pan. Roast in a high-heat oven for about 45 minutes.  Then add in the rest of the vegetables and herbs and cook for about 20 minutes more. Add the browned wings and vegetables to six cups of water on the stove, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. This is called “jus rôti” in culinary vernacular.

To make an ultra-rich stock, add in half a pound of prosciutto or dry-cured ham cut up into the roasting wings . Add the vegetables after 40 minutes, then cook it all for an additional 20 minutes. Then, add all of this to one batch of the one-hour stock above and simmer for about 30 minutes more. Strain. This is called “fond riche”.

Sautéed Chicken with Zucchini and Couscous
Serves: Makes 4 servings
This recipe is adapted from the book “Simple to Spectacular” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman. Harissa is a delicious Moroccan chili paste usually blended with coriander and cumin. You can substitute other kinds of chili paste if desired.
  • 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons chili paste or harissa
  • Olive oil
  • 8 ounces zucchini, washed and slice
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ½ cup shredded fresh mint
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, cumin and cardamom. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  2. Bring 1 and ½ cups of the chicken stock to a boil over medium heat in a saucepan.
  3. In a medium bowl, add together the couscous, raisins, and 1 tablespoon of the chili paste, ⅓ cup olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Pour the hot stock over the couscous and stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
  4. Into a large skillet, pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to high. Add in the chicken and cook until the chicken is brown, just a couple of minutes.
  5. Add in the zucchini and toss. Stir in the chickpeas, the remaining chili paste and the remaining stock. Add in the tomato.
  6. Bring the mixture to a brief boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the chicken mixture on top of the couscous and garnish with plenty of fresh mint.

With a big batch of chicken stock on hand, I’ve decided to make a favorite North African dish that is also an easy weeknight meal.