Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Recipe: Salsa Chicken a Winner of a Dish

May 12th, 2009 · 3 Comments

This Pillsbury Bake-Off $1 Million Recipe Still Wows

As former food editor of The Palm Beach Post, I’ve covered a number of Pillsbury Bake-Off competitions. The 100 dishes that are produced at the finals provide a telling insight into the minds of America’s cooks, either by ingredients (simple staples or more gourmet finds) or technique (blackening, flourless baking, microwaving). The cooks, however, are as varied as Americans  — men, women, young and old, from every background conceivable.

I’ve made dozens of their winning recipes over the years — a popular one was the 1980 winner, a Zucchini Quiche made with the obligatory Pillsbury ingredient, crescent rolls, by Millicent Kaplan of Fort Lauderdale. It’s one that still holds up — with some variations (I add bacon or prosciutto, and vary the vegetables and sometimes use other condiments than mustard).

Chicken Salsa and Couscous/photo courtesy Pillsbury.comOne simple recipe I’ve returned to lately is  Salsa Chicken with Couscous. Ellie Matthews of Seattle won $1 million with it in the 1998 Bake-Off. I renamed it Moroccan chicken so I could remember it in my files — it has the flavor profiles of that cuisine. I changed it, too, of course.

I took it to a party this weekend where the guests seemed to love it. They wanted the recipe, once I told them how simple it really was — it tastes much more complex —  and I decided to print it here to get it out easier.

The recipe — with an asterisk

I’m printing the recipe as Pillsbury published it, and at the bottom giving you my variations on it. It really is a fast dish, too — a bonus for time-strapped cooks.

Other recipes for all the other winners — and there are some really good ones to tinker with — are at the Pillsbury web site.

Salsa Chicken with Couscous

  • 3 cups hot cooked couscous or rice
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/4 cup coarsley chopped almonds
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 1 cup Old El Paso salsa
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants or raisins
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook couscous as directed on package (see notes). Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add almonds; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Add garlic and chicken to skillet; cook 4 to 5 miutres until chicken is browned, turning once.

In a small bowl, combine salsa and all remaining ingredients; mix well. Add to chicken. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook 20 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring occasionally.

Stir in almonds; serve chicken and juices over couscous.

Jan’s notes:

  • I cook my couscous in chicken or vegetable broth – never water. I rarely use water to cook anything. Ditto for the water it calls for in the recipe.
  • You can substitute like mad here, but don’t change out the spices — they’re what make this dish. Read that: If you don’t like these spices, then make a different dish.
  • I have used all kinds of chicken pieces but do prefer thighs here and definitely prefer bone-in.
  • I substitute pine nuts for the almonds (still toast them first), and stir them into the couscous and not into the chicken.
  • I use all kinds of dried fruits — whatever I have in the house. Lately, it’s been dried cranberries (craisins) and I’ve used those — dried cherries, apricots or prunes would also work — I imagine dried pineapple could work in this one but not for me.
  • I have made this with fresh salsa (in produce refrigerated area) and jarred variety — Publix’s GreenWise medium salsa is my current choice; I’ve used Chi-Chi’s and Old El Paso as well.
  • I add chicken broth to it as I go along; it makes for a thinner sauce, but if you’re doubling or tripling the recipe as I did for the party, you need a little extra juice.
  • This feeds a lot of people rather cheaply — I can recommend it for a crowd dinner with only a salad as another side. I would serve baklava or a nut- or fruit-based dessert without anything creamy.

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking!

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 GPrimm // May 13, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    This one sounds like a keeper. Can’t wait to try it.

    Thanks for the tips to go with it as well.

    I passed it along to several friends and relatives who think it would be good too.

  • 2 Chef D // Apr 15, 2010 at 3:49 am

    Very nive I will try it asap and give credit to this site, guest post are great

  • 3 Recycling menus on the meal plan « You Ate That??? // Apr 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    […] recipe qualifies for a contest sponsored by a company known for baking products.)  In any case Salsa Couscous Chicken is easy and kid-friendly.  Not a drop left on the boys’ plates.  It’s about time […]

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