The traditional method of preparing couscous is to steam-cook it in a special pot called a couscoussier. The couscoussier consists of two parts: the lower part is a stockpot with a lid that fits snug, and the upper part is the couscous steamer insert. The top pot has holes in it to allow steam to rise from the lower pot. The stew or broth in the bottom pot cooks while the couscous is steamed on top. (Real couscous is always steamed, never boiled.) Most traditional couscous recipes call for the couscous to be dampened with water (or oil), then steamed, removed and allowed to cool, mixed with butter or oil, then steamed again, and then perhaps cooled and steamed a third time. Note: Be sure to identify which type of couscous you have purchased instant or traditional. The boxed couscous is available in most grocery stores, which is prepared by pouring the couscous pasta into boiling water. This is really pre-cooked “instant couscous”. Cooking “instant couscous” in the traditional method described here may result in mushy, overcooked pasta. To obtain real (not instant) couscous you can go to any specialty store, or, if using instant couscous, reduce the cooking time by at least half. You can find many more elaborate recipes on the internet, but here is my suggestion for a basic recipe.
What you’ll need
- Six cups of couscous (not “instant couscous”)
- Two cups of warm water, mixed with two teaspoons of salt
- One-half cup of cooking oil (olive oil, melted butter, or similar)
- Chicken broth (or any North African vegetable or meat stew)
What you do
- Put half the couscous in a large bowl. Sprinkle half the salted water over the couscous. Rub your hands with a bit of the oil and sprinkle the rest of the oil over the couscous. Use your hands to evenly distribute the oil and water into the couscous. Let the couscous form small pellets, but break any lumps. Add the remaining couscous and continue the process, adding the remainder of the salted water and oil to make the couscous uniformly damp, but not wet.
- Place the couscous on a clean cloth, cover it with another cloth and leave it to rest for an hour or two. (Some cooks let it rest for a much shorter time.)
- Bring the chicken broth (or stew) to a very gentle boil in the bottom pot. Place the couscous in the top pot, cover, and let the couscous steam for about an hour over the simmering broth (or stew).
- Remove the couscous from the steamer and place it in a clean bowl. Massage some more oil or butter into it (careful not to burn your hands) and let it cool for about fifteen minutes.
- Return the couscous to the steamer and let it steam for another half hour. Test for tenderness. The last two steps can be repeated.
- You can also use our couscoussier as a steamer for vegetables.
- Even if you don’t make couscous the traditional way, now you know there’s more to it than dumping it from a box into a pot of boiling water.