1 package (500 grams) couscous (not quick cooking)
1 stick of unsalted butter salt to taste ice cold water as needed
Start the process 1-1/2 to 2 hours ahead of serving time. Most of the time is in soaking or steaming so you can plan other things while the couscous is cooking. It is well worth the extra work to steam couscous rather then the quicker boiling methods. You will find steamed couscous to be a completely different dish.
Process time: 1st soak: 20 minutes
1st Steam: 20 minutes
Cool, wet and butter: 30 minutes
2nd steam: 20 minutes
Serve or you can steam a third time
(Adjust quantities as needed. The couscous will expand by 3-4 times. Better to make extra which can be refrigerated and re-steamed for later for 10 minutes to rewarm it.).
If you don’t have an official couscousier, a stoneware colander and regular saucepan fitted with a loosely rolled aluminum foil seal will do admirably. It will need to be a bit over 3 times the diameter of the pot. Lightly oiling the colander before steaming helps keep couscous from sticking to it. The main point is, you do NOT use a lid to steam couscous. The initial wetting of the couscous grains keeps them from falling through the colander.
Couscous is usually viewed as a “go-with” starch by Americans. Explore some of the superb recipes in Paula Wolfert’s books (“Mediterranean Cooking” and “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco” are especially loaded.) where couscous and various vegetables become either the centerpiece or a major side-dish.
This particular method speeds up the process a bit as it doesn’t dry the couscous in between steamings as Paula recommends in “Couscous and Other Good Foods”.
1) Place the couscous in a large round shallow dish. Stir in 1 cup of ice cold water. Let stand for 20 minutes. The couscous will stick together in one large, stiff mass. Break apart the couscous with your fingers using a circular raking motion and by gently rubbing the couscous until all the grains are separate.
2) Fill the bottom pot of the couscousier approximately 1/3-1/2 full of water, place steamer insert on top, bring water to a gentle boil. The water level should be low enough so that there is no risk of it touching the bottom of the steamer.
When it’s time to put the couscous in the colander, turn the water up to a hard boil so steam is coming through the colander holes.
Place the couscous in the colander or steamer insert portion of a couscousier. When you spread the couscous in the colander, be sure to cover all the holes so steam is forced throughout the couscous. Let steam at a rolling boil uncovered for about 30 minutes.
3) Using hotpads, turn the couscous into the bowl. Sprinkle with about about 1/4 cup of cold water and 2 tablespoons of salt and add 1/3 stick of butter. The couscous will be very hot from the steam. Traditionally, North Africans use their hands to incorporate the ingredients, you can use a fork if the heat bothers you. Let stand for about 30 minutes, rake with your hands (or stir with a fork) again to completely separate each grain and return to steamer for a second steaming.
4) Steam a second time for 20 minutes, turn out the couscous into a bowl, add about 1/4 cup of cold water, more salt to taste and 1/3 of the butter, fluff the couscous using the same raking motion, let stand for 30 minutes and return to steamer for final steaming.
5) Turn out the couscous into the bowl, add more salt and butter to taste. The finished product should be light and fluffy, with an al dente texture. It should not be gritty or mushy. Serve on a round platter in a mound. Juices from cooking the main dish can be spooned over the couscous.
Herbs and seasonings can be mixed in during the second cooling
Also Try steamed Corn Polenta as a variation from traditional couscous. Click here for recipe.
An old Moroccan saying is that if unexpected company shows up for dinner, steam the couscous again. It will puff more and feed more people. Leftovers store well covered in the refrigerator.