Curried Chicken Cranberry Couscous — Cooked on a Camp Stove
Pennsylvania’s Father Keith Laskowski designed this recipe for the rugged backcountry of the Appalachian Trail.
Participating in the recent “Cooks with Collars” competition in the diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Father Keith Laskowski, pastor at Our Lady of Mercy parish in Easton, won 6th place — something of an honor considering there were dozens of priests participating. His winning dish? A rather unique offering of curried chicken with cranberry couscous, cooked over a camp stove on the Appalachian Trail.
A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Father Laskowski was born into a devout Catholic family. He majored in chemistry in college, volunteered on a Navajo reservation, and taught chemistry for a year. It was there that his choice to join the priesthood crystallized. “My parents were supportive,” he said. “They came to visit me in Arizona, and I told them my decision. At my ordination, my mom said it was one of the happiest days of her life.”
It was also Father Laskowski’s mom who may have inspired his eventual creative cooking. “I am not the big cook,” he said. “My mom is a great cook. She is from a Polish background, yet she would cook Japanese food like yakitori, and she would cook other things like that. … I have been the recipient of a lot of good food, but I was more of the dishwasher when I came home.”
But somehow his cooking skills were ignited — almost literally when his diocese launched Cooks with Collars last year. It was a big Catholic Charities donor appeal generally in February or March. “They would do an auction where the priest would come to a parishioner’s home to cook and raise money,” he said. Catholic Charities was unable to host its annual banquet, which raised funds for its needed services throughout the diocese.
Because of the pandemic, the effort changed to using virtual videos that showed priests cooking, featuring more than two dozen priests in this online competition. But capturing an indoor video for Father Laskowski was something of a challenge. “I love to hike,” he said. “Could I prepare a meal outside? Everyone will be cooking in the kitchen. I can prepare a meal at Bake Oven Knob on the Appalachian Trail.”
He solved the problem by packing all the ingredients in a freezer bag. “My recipe was curried chicken with cranberry couscous. I was going to make chili because we had a chili contest the year before, but that is not easy to cook on the trail,” he said. “It was a simple dish. I combined all of the dry ingredients, couscous, cranberries and other spices. I added the canned chicken (can be fried beforehand) and boiling water and let it set for 10 minutes. I basically rehydrated the foods. Lastly, I added the chopped cashews. On the trail, it tastes delicious.”
Each priest was tasked with filming his own cooking segment and each parish posted the videos on their website. Parishioners would watch the videos, vote and pledge a monetary donation. “I filmed on the trail,” he said, “and then in the kitchen to show the ingredients and at the end of the video, I added the recipe.”
Father said his parents called his video “cool”, but he hasn’t cooked it for them yet. When they come to visit, he said, he will cook this dish for them — but not necessarily over a camp stove.
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Curried Chicken Cranberry Couscous
Father explained about freezer bag cooking, the method he used for preparing the recipe below: “This is simply adding boiling water to your dried ingredients. It is easy to prepare on the trail when hiking with a simple stove. It is recommended that you use good quality freezer bags so they don’t melt when adding the water.” (Note: Father Laskowski boiled the water on the trail using a Jetboil backpacking stove.)
- 3/4 cup couscous
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 Tbsp diced dried onions
- 1/2 Tbsp dried parsley
- 1-1/2 Tbsp curry powder
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 pouch 7-ounce chicken (or substitute canned chicken)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup diced cashews
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a quart-sized Freezer Bag. Put the nuts in a separate bag. Place the chicken and oil in a separate sealed container.
When ready to prepare, add the chicken with broth, the oil and 1-1/4 cups near boiling water to the freezer bag. Stir well, seal tightly and put in a small cozy (insulated container) for 10 minutes. Fluff up and add the cashews.