How to Steam Couscous in a Couscoussier
Making Authentic Moroccan Couscous
If you want to serve authentic Moroccan couscous, you need to steam it in a couscoussier–a traditional Moroccan pot used to cook couscous over a simmering stew. Although there are 3 stages of steaming, it is a pretty simple process.
This traditional Moroccan pot features a large base (called either a barma, gdra or tanjra) for stewing meats and vegetables, and a steamer basket (kesskess) which fits snugly atop the pot for steaming couscous, rice or even vermicelli (seffa).
Couscoussier comes in different sizes. The one shown here holds about 9 liters (9 quarts) of liquid, and the steamer basket can hold about 2 kilograms (almost 4 1/2 pounds) of couscous.
Couscous is traditionally steamed 3 times over a rapidly simmering stew. Steaming the couscous makes each grain plump and tender without being wet, and therefore better suited for absorbing the tasty broth from the stew.
Steaming couscous doesn’t add any actual cooking time to the dish’s preparation, but each steaming will require about 5 minutes of easy prep work.
Add Oil to the Dry Couscous
Start by emptying 1 kilogram (2 1/4 pounds) of dry couscous (do not use instant couscous)into a large shallow bowl. (The “bowl” used here is called a gsaa.) Adjust the amount of oil and water in each step if using a different quantity of couscous.
Add about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Toss, rub and stir the couscous with your hands to distribute the oil. The oil helps prevent clumping, allowing each grain of couscous to remain separate as it steams.
Add 1 Cup of Water
Add 1 cup of water to the couscous, and toss the couscous and rub it between your hands until the water is evenly distributed. You can see the couscous is already plumping up, but it needs to steam in order to become tender.
First Steaming of the Couscous
Lightly oil the interior of the steamer. Transfer the couscous to the steamer, taking care not to compress or pack the couscous. Place the steamer on top of the base of the couscoussier. Presumably, you’ll be stewing some meat and vegetables in the bottom, but you could also steam the couscous over salted water.
If any steam escapes from the joint where the steamer and base meet, you’ll want to seal the joint. You can do this in one of 3 ways:
1. Wrap and tie a long piece of damp cloth over the joint.
2. Tightly wrap a long piece of kitchen plastic film around the joint.
3. Wrap and drape a long piece of kitchen plastic film onto the rim of the couscoussier, and then place the basket on top.
Once you see steam rise from the couscous, allow the couscous to steam for a full 15 minutes.
Second Steaming of the Couscous
Once the couscous has completed its first steaming, empty it from the steamer into your large bowl. Use a spoon to break it apart, and allow it to cool a few minutes.
Add 2 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt. Toss the couscous and rub it between your palms to break up any balls or clumps.
Put the couscous back into the steamer – again, don’t pack the couscous – and steam a second time for another 15 minutes, timing from when you see the steam rise from the top of the couscous. Remember to seal the joint if you notice steam escaping from the sides.
Third Steaming of the Couscous
Once the couscous has completed its second steaming, empty it into your large bowl again. Break it apart, and allow to cool slightly.
Separately add 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water, tossing and mixing the couscous with your hands after each addition. The couscous should be light, fluffy, and leaning toward al dente when you try it. It will continue to tenderize during the last steaming and from adding broth during serving time.
Transfer the couscous to the steamer – remember not to compress the couscous, just pile it in lightly – and steam for the final time for another 10 to 15 minutes, timing from when you see the steam. Again, seal the joint of the couscoussier if necessary.
Due to the volume of couscous, it will take a bit longer to see the steam emerge. Because of this, some Moroccan cooks don’t add all the couscous for the final steaming in a single quantity. They might place 1/3 or 1/2 of the couscous in the steamer, and add more when they see the steam rising.
Serve the Couscous
The couscous is now ready to serve. Try serving with a variety of vegetables.
To make, turn out the steamed couscous and toss in 2 tablespoons of butter and a couple ladles of broth. The meat and vegetables are arranged on top, and more broth is poured over.