Chicken Makbous

chicken makbous
Photo: Bobbi Lin

Martha's take on the popular Arabian Gulf meat-and-rice dish known as makbous calls for Cornish game hens and a bed of delicately spiced pearl couscous and yellow split peas.


For the Cornish Game Hens

  • 8 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

  • 2 small onions, quartered

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed

  • 4 whole cloves

  • 2 cinnamon sticks, plus ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 2 bay leaves

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 3 Cornish game hens (1 ½ pounds), legs tied

  • 4 tablespoons ghee, melted

  • 1 teaspoon ground loumi

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

For the Couscous

  • 2 tablespoons ghee

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, halved and diced

  • 1 medium onion, diced

  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander

  • teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • teaspoon ground cardamom

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 1 cup dried yellow split peas, soaked overnight and drained (or quick-soaked according to package directions)

  • 2 cups pearl couscous

  • 4 cups baby spinach


  1. Make the Cornish game hens: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In a large stockpot, bring stock, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, 3 teaspoons salt, and 8 cups water to a simmer over medium-high heat.

  2. Season hens with salt and pepper and place into the simmering poaching liquid, adding more water, if necessary, to cover hens. Poach for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove hens from poaching liquid and place them breast-side up on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Strain poaching liquid, reserving 5 cups for couscous.

  3. In a small bowl, stir to combine ghee, loumi, coriander, ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Brush ghee mixture all over the poached hens, then transfer to oven. Roast until skin is crisp and deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

  4. Make the couscous: In a large straight-sided skillet, heat ghee over medium. Add garlic, leeks, onion, thyme, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in split peas and 5 cups reserved poaching liquid; bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in couscous and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes. Fold in spinach and season with salt and pepper.

  5. Halve hens through the breast and backbones, if desired. Spoon couscous onto a serving platter and top with hens.

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