Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: 3 chicken stews and soups that skip searing step

A tagine that boasts sweet and spicy elements, a lighter take on curry, and more.

Chicken tagine with apricots, butternut squash, and spinach.
Chicken tagine with apricots, butternut squash, and spinach.Connie Miller of CB Creatives

Around the world, many cooks already know that searing meat for stews and soups isn’t a must. Besides being more convenient, no-sear stews and soups also yield the cleaner, brighter flavors we love at Milk Street. And those made with chicken are no exception. From Morocco, we adapt a tagine with apricots and butternut squash that balances sweet, savory, and spicy elements. Our South African chicken-potato curry is lighter than its Indian counterpart thanks to simmering whole spices. And in Tunisia, a chicken-vegetable stew steams and flavors boldly spiced couscous.

Chicken Tagine With Apricots, Butternut Squash, and Spinach

Makes 4 servings


Trim, cut, and season the chicken first to let it absorb the flavors while you prepare the remaining ingredients. An equal amount of carrots can be substituted for the butternut squash. Serve the tagine with couscous, rice, or warmed pita bread. Don’t drain the diced tomatoes. Their liquid adds sweetness and acidity to the stew.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

14-ounce can diced tomatoes

¾ cup dried apricots, quartered

8 ounces peeled butternut squash, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 cup cracked Greek green olives, pitted and halved

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

¼ cup pistachios, toasted and chopped

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)

4 ounces baby spinach (about 4 cups)

In a small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the oil, 2½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, the cinnamon, cumin, paprika, coriander, and cayenne. Then in a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half the paste, rubbing the meat to coat evenly; set aside.


In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine the onion, garlic, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion is browned and softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the ginger and remaining spice paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, and apricots and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add the chicken, return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the squash and olives, return to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the liquid has thickened and the squash is tender, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain a medium simmer.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together ½ cup of the cilantro, the pistachios, and lemon zest. Stir the spinach into the stew and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining ½ cup of cilantro and the lemon juice, then taste and season with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if necessary. Serve topped with the cilantro-pistachio mixture.

Cape Malay Chicken Curry

Makes 6 servings

Cape Malay chicken curry.
Cape Malay chicken curry.Connie Miller of CB Creatives (custom credit)/Connie Miller of CB Creatives

We like the ease of boneless, skinless thighs, which stay moister and taste richer than chicken breasts. Also, don’t cut the potatoes smaller than 1-inch chunks; smaller pieces will overcook and break apart.


1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and patted dry

2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

4-ounce chunk fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 5 pieces

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 serrano chilies, stemmed and halved lengthwise

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes

2 cinnamon sticks

2 bay leaves

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon), plus lemon wedges, to serve

½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, torn

Cooked basmati or jasmine rice, to serve

In a bowl, mix the fennel, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the turmeric. Use 1 tablespoon of the mixture to season the chicken.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until just smoking. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and chilies, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and remaining spice mixture, then submerge the chicken thighs.

Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 25 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a steady but gentle simmer. Stir in the potatoes, cover, and return to a simmer. Cook until the chicken and potatoes are tender, another 12 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a large plate. Remove and discard the ginger, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and chili halves, then continue to simmer over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.


Meanwhile, using two forks, pull the chicken into bite-size pieces, then return to the pot and stir to combine, taking care not to break up the potatoes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with mint. Serve with rice and lemon wedges.

North African Chicken Couscous

Makes 6 servings

North African chicken couscous.
North African chicken couscous.Connie Miller of CB Creatives (custom credit)/Connie Miller of CB Creatives

We developed this recipe using an 8-quart pot with a stackable steamer insert. If you don’t own one, a large pot and a folding steamer basket work well. Whisking the liquid from the stew into the steamed couscous is a key step, deeply flavoring it and helping it stay light and fluffy with distinct grains. Harissa can vary widely in heat level brand to brand. We like Dea, which is sold in a tube. If your harissa is particularly spicy or you prefer less heat, reduce the second portion.

Don’t worry about the couscous falling through the steamer basket holes. By the time it’s in the basket, it’s already coated with oil and partially hydrated, which binds it together enough to stay put. Also don’t stir the stew during simmering. The vegetables hold their shape and flavor better when cooking on the surface.

2 cups medium couscous

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra to serve


Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1½ tablespoons ground turmeric

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut in half

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1½-inch chunks

6 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 large red onion, root end intact, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

2 jalapeño chilies, stemmed and thinly sliced

6 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup harissa (more or less, to taste), divided

Lemon wedges, to serve

In a medium bowl, combine the couscous and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, rubbing with your fingers until coated. Stir in 1¼ cups of water and ¾ teaspoon salt. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, stir together the turmeric and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, onion, 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then set aside.

Stir the couscous to separate the granules, then mound it in a steamer insert or basket that fits into an 8-quart pot. Set aside. Set the 8-quart pot over medium-high and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until just smoking. Add the jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and ¼ cup of the harissa to the pot and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add 2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Place the chicken in the pot, then top with the vegetables and any liquid in the bowl; do not stir. Bring to a simmer, then set the steamer insert or basket with the couscous on the pot; if using a folding steamer basket, set it directly on the vegetables. Cover, reduce to low, and cook, maintaining a gentle simmer, until the chicken and vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes; do not stir the couscous or the stew.

Remove the steamer basket and transfer the couscous to a large bowl; cover with foil to keep warm. Stir the vegetables into the chicken, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken and vegetables to a large bowl; taste and season with salt and pepper. Measure 2 cups of the cooking liquid in the pot. Stir the remaining ¼ cup harissa into it. Whisk the couscous until no clumps remain, then whisk in the 2 cups cooking liquid. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the couscous to a large, deep platter and make a well at the center. Spoon the chicken and vegetables into the well. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with lemon wedges.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.