Couscous

Couscous with Chicken, Meat, Vegetables, and a Hot Sauce

Although couscous is originally a North African dish, it has been incorporated in the Provence repertory for so long that it is now a traditional part of the cuisine.

Like aïoli and bouillabaisse, couscous is a spectacular creation, a feast in itself. It consists of many foods served on different platters containing meat and vegetables, chicken and carrots, the couscous grain itself, and the chickpeas. The assortment of dishes is served with a bowl of broth and a bowl of very hot red pepper sauce.

The dish derives its name from the grain (hard wheat semolina) which is its principal ingredient. In North Africa a special semolina is rolled to prepare couscous, but in France and the United States, packages of ready-made couscous grain are available in stores selling health food or in stores with imported food items. It is also available through mail order. The Harissa sauce is available under that name in special grocery shops, but it can also be prepared at home.

The dish will take about 2 hours to cook. You will need three pots: a pan for cooking meats and vegetables, one for cooking the chicken and carrots, and then a couscoussière (see Techniques and Tools). If you do not have a couscoussière, line a sieve with a linen towel, place this over a large pot, and cover the sieve with a lid.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lamb, shoulder or breast
  • 2 pounds short ribs of beef
  • 1 cup Sauce Tomate
  • 1 can Harissa sauce or Tabasco sauce
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 beef or lamb bones
  • 5 onions (1 minced, 4 peeled and left whole)
  • 4 tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
  • 4 chili peppers, minced, or 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • 8 medium-sized turnips, peeled
  • 10 zucchini, seeded, or 1 pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into large pieces
  • 1 clove
  • 1 6-pound chicken
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 2-inch sticks
  • 5 carrots, peeled
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pounds couscous grain
  • 3 large heads green cabbage, quartered
  • ½ pound of chickpeas, cooked or canned
  • ¼ pound sweet butter

Method

Cut the lamb and beef into 1½-inch pieces, trimming as much fat and gristle as possible.

Prepare the sauce tomate and add Harissa sauce or Tabasco sauce to taste.* Set aside.

The following instructions for cooking the meat, chicken, vegetables, and couscous grain should be followed in such a way that everything will be ready at about the same time—this means that at some point you will have three pots cooking on the stove.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and sauté the meat for 5 minutes. Add the beef or lamb bones, minced onion, tomatoes, chili peppers, and salt. Pour in enough hot water to cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add the turnips and cook for 15 minutes. Add the zucchini or pumpkin and cook for 20 minutes over a low flame. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stick a clove in one of the whole onions and put it in a large pot with the chicken, bones, celery sticks, and carrots. Add salt and pepper and cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 hour. Remove the chicken, take off the skin with a sharp knife, and cut into pieces. Put the chicken back in the broth until ready to use.

Meanwhile, pour the couscous grain into a large bowl and sprinkle it with ½ cup of cold water. Toss it with your hands and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Take your couscoussiére (or a large pan and a sieve) and fill the bottom part with 6 quarts of water, the remaining whole onions, the cabbage, salt, and pepper. Place the couscous grain in the top part (or the sieve if you are not using a couscoussiére). Bring the water to a boil and steam the couscous, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the grain from the pot, sprinkle it with ½ cup of cold water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix gently with your hands or two forks (the grains should not stick to each other). Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Put the grains back in the top of the couscoussiére or pot and cook above the boiling broth for 30 minutes. Just before serving, heat the chickpeas with a little olive oil.

To prepare for serving, place the couscous grain in a large shallow dish. Dot with butter or sprinkle with olive oil and keep covered with a lid until ready to serve. Place the meats and vegetables on one or two platters—discard the two bones. Pour hot broth over them. Place the chicken on a large platter and pour some of the broth over it also. Pour six ladlefuls of the hot broth in a large bowl. Put the hot Harissa sauce in another bowl to pass around for pouring on all the various foods. Each person will put a ladleful of couscous grain onto his or her soup plate (this must be large and shallow), then take some of the meat, chicken, and vegetables, and then spoon some hot broth and tomato sauce over everything.

Variations

The ingredients and the proportions will vary according to what you have on hand and according to your taste. Follow the general process as described in the main recipe and remember this is a simple dish you can improvise on and in which nothing needs to be absolutely precise.

Couscous aux Sept Légumes

Made with cabbage, yellow and red squash, carrots, tomatoes, eggplants, chili peppers, fresh lima beans, and onions, with 2 teaspoons of saffron crumbled and sprinkled over the cooked vegetables a few minutes before serving.

Couscous aux Courgettes, Féves et Navets

Made with zucchini, fresh lima beans, turnips, onions, and lamb stew, flavored with saffron and coriander.

Couscous aux Onions et au Miel

Made with chicken and lamb, onions, cinnamon, and honey.

Couscous aux Raisins Secs et Pois Chiches

Made with raisins, chickpeas, lamb, onions, and saffron.

Couscous Medfon

Made with lamb, chicken giblets, onions, saffron, and cinnamon.

Couscous aux Boulettes

Served with little meatballs seasoned with cumin and simmered in the broth for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

* Or else prepare a different sauce: Crush 2 peeled garlic cloves into a mortar. Add ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon crushed coriander seed, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, and salt to taste. Pound and stir. Slowly add the olive oil and stir, then add 1 cup of Sauce Tomate. This sauce can be kept refrigerated for a few days.