You can’t get much simpler or more delicious than farmhouse-style cooking — meals cooked from ingredients in season using time-tested techniques and not a lot of bells and whistles. Pick up a copy of The Farm Cooking School and get back to basics with simple pleasures. We’re loving this simple recipe for hand-rolled couscous.
Our fascination with hand-rolled couscous started with a recipe by Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou that Shelley found while searching for couscous that would remind her of the versions she’d tasted in Paris, a city with wonderful pockets of North African influence. With its lighter texture and fresher taste, the difference between this and the instant stuff is night and day. Having played with Lahlou’s recipe many times, here is our adaptation. A couscoussière is a large pot made up of two parts: the base, where the stew is cooked, and the top section, which has a perforated bottom, where the couscous steams. If you don’t have one, you can use a pasta pot with a shallow steamer insert and lid.
Better “Instant” Couscous
We love the fluff of hand-rolled couscous, but we also live in the real world, one in which we don’t always have the time to make couscous by hand. When we find ourselves wanting couscous in less time, we use this technique for a much better store-bought result. It’s not exactly instant, but it’s still very quick and serves 4–6 people.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt in 3 cups warm water. Pour 3 cups instant couscous into a large shallow pan and drizzle with all of the water, raking with your fingers to distribute it evenly. Let the couscous sit for 15 minutes to absorb the water.
Drizzle the couscous with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and work the grains between your palms to separate them and work out any clumps. Transfer the grains to a large baking dish and bake in the oven, uncovered, turning the grains occasionally, until they begin to steam, 10 to 15 minutes. Loosely mound the grains on a platter and serve. — Serves 4 to 6
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups warm water
- 4 cups fine semolina, divided, plus more for finishing
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- A clean spray bottle; a large rimmed baking sheet; a classic metal 3-footed colander; a 12-to-16 quart couscoussiere or pasta pot with shallow steamer insert; cheesecloth
For the couscous
Dissolve 4 teaspoons salt in the water and place some in the spray bottle. Spread 1 cup semolina on the rimmed baking sheet in a thin layer. Moisten the semolina lightly all over by spraying it 10 to 15 times with the spray bottle. Gently work the semolina in a circular motion with both your hands held flat and fingers spread, without pressure, until the semolina has absorbed all the water and feels dry.
Continue to moisten the semolina, 10 to 15 sprays at a time, and roll with your palms and fingers until the semolina, which will increase in size and become rounder, starts to look like fine couscous, about the size of a pinhead. If the grains are slightly wet, sprinkle with a little more fine semolina and roll lightly in a circular motion as before until they feel mostly dry.
Set the colander over a large shallow container and gently work the couscous through the colander holes, discarding any large clumps that accumulate in the colander.
Repeat this process with the rest of the semolina, 1 cup at a time, and as much of the salted water as needed. The couscous can be left to dry for several hours before starting the steaming process.
To steam the couscous on its own, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in the bottom of the couscoussiere or pasta pot. Once the water has come to a boil, line the perforated top section of the couscoussiere or the steamer basket with a large double-layered piece of cheesecloth. Loosely mound the hand-rolled couscous in the cloth and set the insert over the boiling water. Wrap a large kitchen towel or plastic wrap around the sides of the couscoussiere where the two sections of the pot meet, to force all the steam up through the couscous. Let it steam, uncovered (so the steam doesn’t condense and drip down onto the couscous, making it heavy), for 20 minutes.
Gather the couscous up by the edges of the cheesecloth and empty it into a wide shallow pan. Sprinkle with ¾ cup water and let stand until cool enough to handle. Rub the couscous between your hands to separate the grains.
Return the cheesecloth to the top of the couscous pot and lightly mound the couscous on it again. Let it steam in the same way over the boiling water for another 20 minutes. Transfer the couscous once again to the shallow pan. This time, drizzle with 3/4 cup more water as well as the melted butter. When cool enough to handle, rub the grains between your hands again and return the couscous to the cloth-lined top section of the pot. (This much can be done a couple of hours ahead.)
About 15 minutes before serving, place the couscous over the boiling water, wrapping the sides of the couscoussiere or pasta pot with the towel again, and steam the couscous until heated through, about 15 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and mound on a large platter to serve.