Chicken Couscous with Cherries and Goat Cheese

This dish is a perfect meal in the early summer, when cherries are abundantly available. It's also a great way to use up any leftover chicken, or take a shortcut and buy a rotisserie chicken.

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Looking down on a white oval platter with pearl couscous with chicken and cherries.

What is Pearl Couscous?

This recipe for Chicken Couscous with Cherries and Goat Cheese starts with a couscous you may not be so familiar with – pearl couscous. Although many people think of couscous as a grain (including those stocking the grocery shelves – you’ll find couscous with the rices and other grains), it is actually a type of pasta. Both couscous and pearl couscous are made of semolina flour and water. The main difference between the two is size – couscous (also known as Morrocan couscous) is grain sized, whereas pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous or giant couscous) is larger, more like a pea. 

Ingredients for a pearl couscous with chicken salad on a cutting board - chicken breast, lemon, basil, scallions, goat cheese, couscous.Ingredients

This couscous with chicken, cherries and goat cheese is easy to prepare, especially if you have some leftover chicken or have purchased a rotisserie chicken. If you’re cooking the chicken from scratch, you could grill it, roast it or for the easiest and quickest solution, try air-frying it. Once you have your cooked chicken breast, you’ll just need a few other easily found ingredients in addition to the pearl couscous. If you can’t find pearl couscous in your area, try using orzo pasta.

Halved cherries after pitting in a bowl next to a cherry pitter and the pits.

How to Pit Cherries

This is a messy job. The easiest and fastest way to do it is to use a cherry pitter. It’s a cheap investment that will save you from a lot of splatter (but not all!) and it can pit olives too. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use the flat side of your chef’s knife and press down on the cherry to flatten it, making the pit easily retrievable. You can also use a skewer, inserted into the stem end of the cherry and move it around the pit to loosen it. Then, squeeze the pit out of the cherry. Finally, you can use a paring knife to cut the cherry in half, pulling the pit out as you go. But, as I mentioned before, the fastest and easiest way to pit a cherry is with a $10 cherry pitter

A wooden spoon fluffing pearl couscous in a stainless steel saucepan.

How to Cook Pearl Couscous

Most of the time, you’ll have instructions on your package of pearl couscous, telling you how to cook it. If you don’t, cooking pearl couscous is very easy. Just put a cup of couscous into 1½ cups boiling salted water, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. The couscous should be tender by that point and there should be very little if any water left. If there is excess water, strain it away, but I predict the couscous will have absorbed it all. Then, just fluff with a flat spoon and you’re done. For this recipe, spread the couscous out on a sheet pan to cool to room temperature. It might stick together, but that’s no worry because it will be dressed when the salad is tossed.

Ingredients for a pearl couscous with chicken salad in a stainless steel bowl.

Pearl Couscous in a Salad

The dressing for this dish is a very simple honey-mustard vinaigrette. Whisk that together and then put all the ingredients – couscous, scallions, chicken, cherries, almonds, basil, lemon zest – in a bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top, leaving a little for the final touches.

Tossing a pearl couscous with chicken salad in a stainless steel bowl.

Make Ahead Options

You can have all the ingredients for this dish made ahead of time – cook and chop the chicken, pit the cherries, chop the scallions, toast the almonds, cook the couscous, make the dressing. This can all be done a day ahead of time. When it comes time to serve, just toss them together with the dressing and you’re done, scattering the goat cheese on top at the end. This couscous with chicken will also keep over a day as well, so you can enjoy leftovers. 

Looking down on a white oval platter with pearl couscous with chicken and cherries.

How to Serve

My preference is to serve this as a beautiful summer meal for 2 to 3 people, perhaps with some crunchy dressed Romaine lettuce leaves. You could also, however, serve it as one of a few summer salads, or even as a hearty side dish (with or without the chicken) to some grilled foods. Either way, enjoy!

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Pearl Couscous with Chicken, Cherries and Goat Cheese

  • Cook Time: 15 m
  • Total Time: 15 m
  • Servings:
    to 4 people


  • 1 large chicken breast grilled or roasted
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 to 2 handfuls arugula or baby butter lettuces
  • 1 cup pitted cherries
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions (about 3 or 4)
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds toasted
  • ¼ cup sliced fresh basil
  • Zest of ½ lemon or orange
  • 2 ounces goat cheese crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Prepare the chicken breast by roasting, grilling or air-frying, or use leftover chicken. Cut the chicken into ½-inch chunks.
  2. Prepare the couscous by following the package instructions. If there are no package instructions, add 1 cup of couscous to 1½ cups of boiling salted water (about ½ teaspoon of salt). Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Drain off any excess water if necessary, fluff the couscous and turn it out onto a sheet pan to cool to room temperature.
  3. Make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and freshly ground black pepper together. Whisk in the olive oil and season to taste.
  4. Place the couscous, chicken, arugula, cherries, scallions, almonds, basil and lemon zest in a large bowl, saving a little lemon zest and basil for garnish at the end. Toss with the vinaigrette. Add almost all the goat cheese and gently toss one more time.
  5. Transfer to a platter lined with arugula or butter lettuce leaves, and then top with the remaining lemon zest, basil and crumbled goat cheese. Serve immediately.
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