Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Couscous is an elegantly simple pasta that appears to have been invented by the Berber peoples of northern Algeria and Morocco between the 11th and 13th centuries. It remains a staple dish in North Africa, the Middle East, and Sicily. In its traditional form, couscous is made by sprinkling salted water into a bowl containing whole wheat flour, then stirring with the fingers to form little bits of dough. The bits are rubbed between the hands and sieved to obtain granules of uniform size, usually 1–3 mm in diameter. There is no kneading and therefore no gluten development, so this gentle technique can be and is applied to many other grains. Couscous granules are small enough that they can be cooked not in a large excess of water but in steam (traditionally over the fragrant stew that it will accompany), which allows them to develop a uniquely light, delicate texture. Couscous works best with thin sauces that spread easily over the large surface area of the small granules.