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Eric Akis: Sharpen your knife for this spicy chicken casserole

Chicken and Chickpea Casserole, baked with spices, apricots and citrus, will appeal to both light- and dark-meat lovers. Serve this North African-style chicken dish with couscous or rice pilaf.

If you’re serving a chicken casserole and want to offer diners white and dark meat, get out a sharp knife and a cutting board. You’ll need them to cut a whole chicken into pieces that will achieve that goal.

If you’ve not done that before, it’s not that difficult and today’s step-by-step photos will guide you. When you’re done you’ll end up with 12 pieces of chicken that include pieces of chicken breast, thigh, drumstick and wing. You’ll also have some bones leftover to make stock with.

To make my recipe, those pieces of chicken are floured and browned, set in a casserole and topped with a saucy mixture of chickpeas, vegetables and apricots, all flavoured with spices and citrus juice and zest.

You can serve this North African-style chicken dish with couscous or rice pilaf. In the Eric’s options part of the recipe, I provide information on how you can partially prepare the casserole hours in advance of baking it.

And, also there, if you really don’t think you have the knife skills to cut up a whole chicken, I provide a remedy for that.

How to cut up a Whole Chicken

The information and photos below will guide you on how to cut a whole chicken into 12 pieces and leave some bones for stock.

1. Set chicken, breast-side-up, on a cutting board. Bend one of the legs back until the thighbone pops out of its socket. Cut through joint and skin where the thighbone became unhinged and remove leg. Do the same thing with the other leg of the chicken. Now carefully cut the wings off the chicken, cutting through the joint where they are attached to the breast.

2. Working horizontally and slightly downward, cut through the rib cage to separate the breast from back and neck of the bird. Save the back/neck bones for stock. Turn the breast skin-side down and cut in half down the middle of the breastbone.

3. Cut each half breast, widthwise, in half. Cut each leg into thigh and drumstick pieces. Now cut each wing into drummette and wingette pieces.

Chicken and Chickpea Casserole with Apricots, Spice and Citrus

Floured, browned, chicken, baked in a casserole with a saucy mix of chickpeas, vegetables, spices, citrus and sliced, dried apricots. Serve with couscous or rice pilaf and, if desired, thick yogurt, for dolloping alongside the chicken once plated.

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: about 80 to 85 minutes

Makes: four to six servings

1 (about 3 1/4 lb/1.5 kg) frying chicken, cut into 12 pieces (see How to cut up a Whole Chicken and Eric’s options)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

1 medium carrot, halved and sliced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp smoked or regular paprika

1/8 or 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

3 1/4 cups chicken stock (divided)

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can chickpeas, drained well, rinsed and drained again

12 dried apricots, thickly sliced

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

3 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

2 Tbsp orange juice

• chopped fresh parsley or mint, to taste

Spread flour out on a wide sided plate. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Now coat each piece of chicken in flour and set on a clean plate. Reserve the flour leftover from coating the chicken.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat oil in a very large skillet set over medium heat. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides, in two batches, if needed, and then set in a deep 13- x 9-inch or similar sized casserole dish.

Add onions and carrots to the skillet and cook, stirring, three to four minutes. Mix in reserved flour, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper and cook and stir one to two minutes more. Slowly pour in one cup of the stock. When mixture becomes very thick, slowly mix in remaining stock.

Add the chickpeas, apricots, juices and zests to the skillet and bring to simmer. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed, and then pour mixture over the chicken. Cover and bake 55 to 60 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and deliciously tender. Arrange chicken on a platter, or serve directly from the casserole, sprinkled with parsley or mint, to taste.

Eric’s options: If cutting up a whole chicken is a task too daunting for you, replace the whole cut up chicken called for in the recipe with six store bought, medium-sized, chicken thighs and six chicken drumsticks. Or six chicken thighs, and two or three medium or large, bone-in chicken breasts, each cut, widthwise, into two or three pieces, depending on size. To make the casserole partially in advance, flour and brown the chicken, and then set in the casserole dish. Make the saucy chickpea mixture in the skillet, but don’t pour it over the chicken. Instead, separately cool the chicken and chickpea mixture to room temperature, and then cover and refrigerate until ready to bake the casserole. When ready to bake the casserole, bring the saucy chickpea mixture back to a simmer, pour over the chicken, cover and bake as described in the recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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