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Couscous

Couscous is a wonderful grain and change of pace from rice.  It is a staple in the Maghreb, the northwest area of Africa that includes Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.  A “couscous mini-cuisine” has evolved there. The base grain of couscous is durum wheat— a very hard wheat with high protein.  The durum endosperm is used to make couscous grain and is also milled to make semolina flour.  Like rice, couscous readily takes on spices, seasonings and sauces. Most supermarkets carry a packaged couscous, with small, almost fine, grains.  It comes plain and seasoned.  The directions on all the boxes I've looked at call for boiling the stuff.  We are not going to do that. 

Couscous is always steamed and never boiled, directions on the box notwithstanding.  Rehydrating the couscous by hand rolling and rubbing it and then steaming it, make it a far better product than the boiled stuff. 

This recipe works very well with packaged couscous.  It follows rather closely the procedures I was taught by master teacher, Pascal Dionot, at L’Academie de Cuisine. 

Couscous
Yield:  6-8 servings
See Abbreviations, if needed
• 10oz    couscous (box) 
•  5oz    water (rule:  2 parts grain, 1 part water, by weight)
•            salt, or other seasonings 
• 1T      EVOO
• 1oz     butter

1. Place grains in a SSB 
    · add 1oz water and hand roll and rub grains to absorb it
    · repeat until all water is in and there are no lumps
    · add salt or other seasonings
2. Add EVOO and roll/rub again.  (The grains now should be wet not soggy)
3. Place grains in cheesecloth and into double boiler
4. Steam for 10 minutes after steam emerges from the pot
5. Remove to the SSB
    · when cool enough to handle but still hot, add butter and rub in
6. Place in a serving bowl, cover and hold in a warm area 
7. If necessary, reheat over steam and serve

The steaming liquid may be water, broth or stock.  Cheesecloth is used to ease the handling of the couscous—it’s needed.  “The ultimate goal is to have tender, light couscous swollen with the steam vapors of the particular broth the recipe calls for.”  Says Clifford Wright, in his recent award winning book, The Mediterranean Feast.

If you wish to make a  more authentic couscous and the savory dishes that it traditionally accompanies, please refer to Paula Wolfert’s, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco.  This book, published in 1973, is a classic and remains a definitive source.  Also refer to Wright’s book.  Their recipes call for a couscous with grains the size of peppercorns, which is available at whole food stores and catalog outfits.  It is prepared as above in Steps 1-3, steamed for 20 minutes in Step 4, and then rehydrated and steamed, uncovered a second time before moving on to Step 5. 

For our purposes, packaged couscous is the way to go. 


 


 

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