Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Couscous (My First Real Attempt at Making It)

I seem to recall having made couscous at some point but as I looked around at recipes online and in books in order to include it in a Moroccan-style feast we were cooking up for some friends this week, I started to discover that, if I thought I'd made it before, boy, was I ever doing it wrong. Somewhere in my mind I was confusing it with farro, bulgar, or rice, picturing it as being a grain to pour out of a box into boiling water in order to cook for 20 minutes. Yup, I was definitely not looking at a simple thing that could just be thrown together; there was a bit of learning to do here.

Having combed through some of my favorite sources for Mediterranean dishes like books by Paula Wolfort, Nancy Jenkins, and Deborah Madison, as well a couple of YouTube videos, to see what was out there for couscous, I came up with the following process. In the end the dish was a great success but also a first step in learning how to really turn out a good couscous.

Note: Although the version here is different, I highly recommend checking out this video with Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco, to learn more about couscous.

Note: Although I intend to purchase a couscoussier, on this first attempt I used a large pot with a steamer insert and some cheesecloth to achieve a similar apparatus for the preparation.

Dried semolina couscous

hack of a couscoussier - wet cheesecloth wrapped around a steamer insert

allowing the wet couscous to absorb the first soaking liquid

oiling the insert

getting the water to a boil

first steam of the couscous - do not cover

fluffing up after the second steaming

2 1/2 cup semolina couscous
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
also: a large piece of cheesecloth

Pour the couscous out into a large mixing bowl and add water to cover. Run through the couscous with your fingers for a minute or so in order to separate it out and allowing it to absorb the water. Drain through a fine sieve then back into the bowl allowing the wet couscous to continue absorbing what water is still on it for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare a large pot with a steamer insert. Add water to the pot to the level just below the bottom of the steamer and bring to a boil. Lightly oil the interior of the steamer.
Run the cheesecloth under water to dampen it, then tie it into a rope and wrap it around the perimeter of the steamer just below the top lip. This will seal the space between the steamer and the top of the pot so that the steam only comes up through the perforations in the steamer and not escape through gap between the insert and the pot.
Over a plate, pour the couscous into the prepared steamer. As the couscous is pretty damp at this point, none will probably leak through the steamer holes but the plate will catch any that do.
Once the water in the pot is boiling, place the steamer insert into the pot but do not cover it. Let the couscous steam for 40 minutes.

Remove the steamer and pour the contents into a large mixing bowl. With a fork, comb through the couscous to allow the steam to be released and separating all of the grains and breaking up any clumps. Once it has cooled a bit, oil your fingers and comb through the couscous again separating the grains and breaking up any remaining clumps.

Bring the water in the pot to the level again just below where the bottom of the steamer insert sits and heat again to a boil. Pour the couscous back into the steamer, then the steamer back into the pot and steam again for another 20 minutes. Remove the steamer and again comb through with a fork and then again with your fingers. Serve or set aside until you are ready to flavor it.

This first time I allowed the couscous to dry in a bowl then seasoned it by sautéing in a hot skillet with butter, salt, along with chopped mint and parsley before serving. This turned out amazing as an accompaniment to a Moroccan stew and boiled carrots.

I plan to continue learning and practicing preparation of couscous. Chef Lahlou has some very interesting takes on it using a broth for the steaming liquid as well as various flavorings that I plan to try.

Please add your comments if you've worked with couscous yourself and can add any suggestions or relate any of your experiences with it.

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