Djej bil Besla

There is a typical algerian dish called Djej bil Qasbour which is chicken with saffron and olives. In looking at various creations I found a dish called Djej bil Besla, which says it is a recipe from a restaurant in Algiers. It is chicken with onions, but it looks to be the same as Djej bi Qasbour with a few more onions so I want to make this.

The traditional grain that is served in Algeria is couscous. I’ve always had couscous from the box, however they consider this to be bad like what I think of Uncle Bens rice.  I am going to try and make couscous and see if I can tell a difference. I’m not going to totally make it from scratch; I just need to find the raw grain.

Algerians prefer to have small grain couscous. At my local grocery store they only have pearl couscous, all the smaller grain is partly cooked. I walk to another grocery store a few blocks away and same story. I walk a bit further to another grocery store and nothing there. I search on yelp for a middle eastern grocery store and it lists one 20 miles from me. Having just gotten back from a road trip I don’t feel like driving that far. However, there is a whole foods that is a 5 minute drive from me and I know they have that huge grain section. Sadly, while they have every grain known to man, the only couscous is the large pearl. At this point I think I should have made it from scratch, however I am hungry and tired now. So, I give up and just get the pearl couscous.

The couscous first needs to be wet with “slightly salted water”. I dissolve a 1/4 teaspoon of water and pour it on the couscous. You are to work it through so that the couscous doesn’t clump. With the larger grain there isn’t much of an issue. Then it dries for an hour. When I come back, the couscous is hardened together and in a giant clump. With the olive oil I rub the couscous thought my hands and separate it so all grains are separate. Set it aside and start on the chicken. IMG_0518 The chicken needs to be marinated for 4 hours, crap I didn’t read the recipe. I just read the ingredient list assuming that the cooking was the same as  Djej bil Qasbour, which didn’t require a marinade. Having gone through 4 grocery stores and doing the couscous first, it won’t be until 10pm to start dinner. I read that couscous needs another 1 hour and 1/2 to cook. So I marinate the chicken for an hour. After an hour I steam the couscous for 40 minutes. Then cool the couscous.  add cinnamon and run my hands through it again to remove clumps. This allows the chicken to marinate for a total of 2 hours, hopefully it is enough. IMG_0529My stomach is growling with all the smell of cinnamon from the couscous and the blend of spices on the chicken.  I let the chicken cook for 40 minutes until it is easily falling off the bone. IMG_0534 The couscous is ready, but instead of melting butter, I cut up the butter and pour the couscous over it. Wait for it to melt and rub my hands through the couscous. There are a lot of steps to this and with all the work with your hands I feel very connected to my couscous. It strangely feels like a meditation. I would totally do this again as long as I have the time. The chicken is ready and my mouth is watering. It is almost 10pm and I’m glad I didn’t marinate the whole time. To serve the dish: scoop some couscous in the bottom of the bowl. Top with a piece of chicken. Then scoop 2 ladles full of sauce in the bowl.

 

IMG_0541 IMG_0538 IMG_0544

Taste is amazing! The chicken is tangy from the lemon and the salt of the olives goes with the sauce. The couscous on  its own is a bit hard, maybe the pearl needs more time or is cooked differently, you can definitely taste the cinnamon. However when you pour the broth on the couscous it soaks it up and becomes the perfect tenderness. The pairing of the two dishes is amazing. The cinnamon tastes as if it is part of the complex chicken stew. Amazing!


Recipes

Couscous

Original can be found here

  • 2 cups raw (NOT par-cooked!), fine-grained couscous
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  1. add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the water.
  2. Spread the couscous in a big pan or dish, and begin sprinkling the salted water over the grains, a little at a time. Using your fingertips, work the grains together to distribute the moisture while simultaneously breaking up any clumps. All the grains should be damp, but not wet.
  3. Spread couscous out in pan and allow to dry for 2 hours.
  4. Once dry,  Moisten with a 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. With your hands mix the olive oil and couscous until all grains are lightly coated glistening, and no clumps.
  5. Lay a double-layer of cheesecloth inside a steamer pan  and set aside.
  6. Bring water to a boil and steam couscous, uncovered  for about 45 minutes.
  7. With the cheesecloth, remove from colander and spread out in the large pan.
  8. Once cool enough to touch, rub grains together between your hands to break up any clumps.
  9. Sprinkle with cinnamon, mix well and return to the cheesecloth-lined colander. Steam for 45 more minutes, or until pleasantly tender.
  10. Cut butter and scatter in a pan.
  11. Pour hot couscous over butter, rub with hands again to break up clumps.

Djej bil Besla

Original can be found here

  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed
  • teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs (bone-in)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron thread, crushed
  • medium yellow onions, cut into 12 wedges each
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise seeds removed
  • 1 1/4 cups green olives, pitted sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
  1. Mash salt and garlic together on a cutting board into a smooth paste.
  2. Stir in cumin, paprika, and turmeric.
  3. Stir in 1 1/2 tbsp oil and then add chicken thighs. Toss until evenly coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
  4. Heat remaining oil in an 8 qt Dutch oven or large tagine over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  5. Add saffron and onions to pot. Season with pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 15 minutes).
  6. Return chicken to pot along with lemon slices and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through (about 40 minutes).
  7. Remove from heat. Remove chicken from the pan and plate the chicken topped with Lemon slices and scatter olives and cilantro over chicken.
  8. Scoop some couscous in a bowl. Place chicken over couscous and pour two ladles of the broth into the bowl

 

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