I have been wanting to learn how to cook couscous for the longest time. Well, friends, the time has come! My friend Farida came over today to teach me how to cook couscous using a steamer. This is not an instant couscous where you just add hot water and fluff with a fork. This is dry couscous that is steamed twice, preferably above a lamb stew which infuses its flavor into the couscous as it's being prepared at the same time. My mind is blown.
Farida was telling me about how she used to make her couscous from scratch. She learned how to make and cook couscous from her family, which has been passed on through the generations. I don't know about you, but hearing stories like that make the food so much more meaningful to me. Learning how to prepare couscous from Farida is a cultural experience, which I hope to share with you in this post.
What I Love About This Recipe
You might be asking yourself, why on earth would I opt for not instant couscous that requires steaming twice?
Because it's the fluffiest couscous you will ever eat. Period. Just like instant rice, instant couscous has its limitations. Cooking couscous in a steamer is a little more work than instant couscous, however, it's not much more effort if making a lamb stew too. While the lamb stew is cooking in the bottom level of the steamer, the couscous steams on top.
What Is Couscous?
Couscous is made from crushed durum wheat semolina, and it looks like dried tiny balls that are the same size as quinoa or bulgar wheat. Serve couscous alongside a stew, like Algerian lamb shoulder stew.
How to Cook Couscous
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Rub the couscous between your hands. Add 1.5 cups of water to the dry couscous without mixing.
Allow the couscous to absorb the liquid for about 10 minutes. After the couscous has absorbed the liquid, rub the couscous between your hands.
First Steam: Add the couscous to the steamer pot. Put the steam pot on medium-high to high heat on the stovetop with the couscous uncovered. It will take about 10 minutes before you start to see steam coming off the couscous. Start a 5-minute timer once you start to see the steam.
Remove the couscous from the steamer into a large bowl to cool. Add 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, mixing a couple of times with a spoon (because it's hot). Allow the couscous to cool off for about 5 minutes. Rub the couscous between your hands.
Second Steam: Add the couscous to the steamer pot. Put the steam pot on medium-high to high heat on the stovetop with the couscous uncovered. It will take about 10 minutes before you start to see steam coming off the couscous. Start a 5-minute timer once you start to see the steam.
Couscous Hand Technique
When rubbing the couscous between your hands, there is a technique that is very effective. Scoop the couscous into your palm and rub your hands together. Rubbing the couscous between your palms separates the couscous from clumping. Each time you rub the couscous, it should only be for about a minute. I've included a video of the hand technique in the recipe card.
Instant Couscous vs. Couscous
Prepare instant couscous by adding hot water or hot broth and fluff with a fork. Many of the recipes online use instant couscous. Because instant couscous is previously steamed, it cooks quicker.
Regular couscous cannot be prepared in the same way as instant couscous. Regular dry couscous needs to be steamed. You can tell regular couscous from instant couscous by the label on the bag. This recipe calls for regular dry couscous (not instant couscous).
Since couscous is made from semolina, it contains gluten.
For 1 lb (450 grams) of dry couscous, use about 2.5 cups of water. The couscous also absorbs water from the steaming steps.
Couscous is more like pasta because it's made from semolina wheat whereas rice is a grain.
How To Store
Store couscous in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You will need a steamer for this recipe. I purchased my multi-level steamer from IKEA, and I highly recommend it. You can use water, broth, or lamb stew to steam the couscous below.