If in 4e and 5e positions in this ranking, we find beef bourguignon and veal blanquette, couscous rises, for its part, to 8e place. Right in front of the steak-frites and stuffed tomatoes.
Brief history of couscous
This is one of the oldest culinary debates: which country invented couscous? Even today, the answer remains uncertain even if it is probable that the Berbers were at the origin. Couscous appears during Antiquity, in North Africa.
Couscous pots have, in fact, been found in Berber tombs, dated between 238 and 149 BC. However, it was not until the Middle Ages that we found written recipes in cookbooks from the Islamic West.
In France, the first traces of couscous are much more recent. We find it mentioned for the first time in “Pantagruel” by Rabelais in 1532. However, we will have to wait until the 19the and XXe centuries for it to become popular in France, following the colonization of Algeria, then the immigration of the pieds-noirs.
The thousand and one different couscous
Although Morocco has a wide variety of couscous, we can nevertheless cite three emblematic recipes:
- Traditional Moroccan couscous made from a single meat (beef, chicken or lamb) and vegetables.
- Seven vegetable couscous, the mix of vegetables used may vary.
- Couscous à la tfaya, a preparation made from caramelized onions, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and chicken. This is a sweet and sour recipe.
Little known, mesfouf is a salty or sweet couscous very common in Algeria. In the savory version, it consists of semolina, peas and raisins. It is usually served with curd or yogurt. In its sweet version, it is cooked with dried fruits such as pistachios, almonds, dates, etc. The mesfouf can then be garnished with candied fruits and flavored with cinnamon or orange blossom.
A traditional ceremonial dish, Tunisian couscous is cooked as much with meat as with fish or seafood, such as octopus or squid. Savory mesfouf and couscous with fried vegetables are also very popular.
On Djerba, an island near the Tunisian coast, all the couscous ingredients are steamed, instead of simmered. There is also mesfouf, but rather in a sweet version.
Grouper couscous is a Siculo-Tunisian specialty. If Tunisia and Sicily share its origins, it is because of the emigration flows linking them. This fish couscous was born in Trapani, a town in western Sicily. However, the date on which it appeared remains uncertain.
Notable particularity: Sicilian couscous, “cùscusu” was prepared not with a couscous maker, but in a “pignatta du cùscusu”, an earthenware dish in two parts, one of which was perforated to allow the semolina to be cooked.
Most French people love royal couscous with meatballs, merguez, chicken and lamb. However, few know that he is not from the Maghreb. In North Africa, couscous is prepared with only one type of meat. This is also one of the fundamental principles of this dish.
So how did royal couscous come to be? When the pieds-noirs popularized couscous in France, they adapted it to the tastes of the French population, a great fan of dishes with multiple meats, such as cassoulet. Couscous has therefore been enriched to include several. This is why he is called royal.
As a result, you will not find this type of couscous and this name anywhere else than in France.
It is important to remember that there is not just one way to make couscous, but hundreds. Each country, region and family has its own recipe. It is the fruit of multiple cultures, which have crossed paths throughout History. In reality, it would be fairer to consider couscous as a Mediterranean dish, rather than trying to attribute a precise origin to it.
Couscous, a dish that brings people together?
In any case, this is what UNESCO was keen to emphasize, by including all “knowledge, know-how and practices linked to the production and consumption of couscous” on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. A true cultural recognition, the candidacy was submitted jointly by Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. An example of cooperation and diplomacy, perfectly illustrating the multicultural character that heritage can take on.
Finally, it highlights the numerous know-how surrounding the preparation of couscous.
The recipe for homemade royal couscous
Couscous is always made with seasonal vegetables, so the ingredients vary depending on the period.
- In autumn-winter: squash, leeks, cabbage, chard…
- In spring: fresh beans, peas, fennel…
- In summer: eggplant, peppers, zucchini…
However, be sure to respect the order and cooking time of each vegetable (20 min for squash, 15 min for pepper, etc.)
Preparation: 30 mins
Cooking: 1 hour
For 6 persons
- 4 onions
- 500g carrots
- 1/2 stalk of celery
- 3 turnips
- 1.5 kg of seasonal vegetables
- 500 g minced beef or lamb
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp. tablespoon of breadcrumbs or flour
- 1 handful of chopped fresh parsley
- olive oil
- 6 chicken drumsticks
- 6 merguez
- 1 kg of lamb collar
- 70 g of tomato paste
- ras el-hanout
- 600 g couscous semolina
- 400 g cooked and drained chickpeas
- 1 tbsp. tablespoon of harissa
- salt pepper
Slice the onions. Peel the vegetables, cut them into large pieces.
Reserve ¼ of the sliced onions, which you will mix with the minced meat, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt and pepper.
With this stuffing, form balls.
Place the lower part of the couscous cooker on the heat and heat some olive oil.
Add the meatballs, let brown for 10 min. Reserve them.
Repeat the operation with the chicken drumsticks, then set them aside.
Grill the merguez for 15 minutes. Reserve.
Still in the bottom of the couscous maker, brown the lamb neck with the onions, carrots, turnips and celery.
Moisten with water and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper and ras el-hanout.
Leave to simmer for 1 hour.
After 30 minutes, add the chicken thighs to the broth.
Add the remaining vegetables, depending on their cooking times.
Add the meatballs 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
Preparation of couscous semolina.
Pour the couscous into a salad bowl.
Moisten with two glasses of salted water and 1 tbsp. tablespoon of olive oil.
Work the seed by hand until all the grains are loose.
30 minutes before the end of cooking the meat, place the top of your couscous maker on its lower part. Seal the two parts, if necessary, using aluminum foil.
Pour the semolina into the top of the couscoussier. Leave to cook for 15 minutes covered.
Put it in a large dish to fluff it with a fork.
Repeat the operation: moisten the couscous with cooking juice, let it swell for a few minutes. Work it by hand, then cook again for 15 minutes in the couscous maker.
Place the semolina in a dish, then flake it.
In a saucepan, reheat the chickpeas with the cooking juice.
Drain the meats and vegetables. Place them in a separate dish with the merguez.
Fill a bowl with broth. Mix in the harissa.
Pour the rest of the broth into a gravy boat.
Serve the couscous, garnish, chickpeas, hot sauce and broth separately.
For even tastier couscous…
As with meat, you can first brown your vegetables one by one in the couscous maker. It will take longer, but the quality of the broth will be better.
Couscous without couscous maker
You don’t have a couscous maker in your kitchen? No problem, you can do just fine without it. Simply cook meat and vegetables in a large pot. Just remember to add more water to get more broth. You will take a few ladles of it to steam the semolina.
Otherwise, you can directly wet it with cooking juices, then heat it for 2 minutes in the microwave. Add 1 tbsp. tablespoon of olive oil to fluff it.
Prepare the hot sauce and chickpeas as directed above, then serve each preparation separately.
We guarantee that the result will be just as good.
*Opinionway study for the travel agency Expedia.fr – October 2016