Couscous Algerois

This recipe comes from a cookbook that my grandmother and a cooperative group of Americans and pieds noirs (French families living in Algeria) put together in Algiers in the 1960's. I'll include here the cookbook's "definition" of couscous:

Couscous is the national dish of Algeria. It is served almost daily in most homes, yet the sauces are never quite the same. The women put all their expertise into varying the ingredients in their sauces and yet keeping to traditional form. The rolling out of the semolina (couscous) has become an art in itself.

The basic process for the preparation of couscous is the steaming of the grain over a stew or broth. This is generally made with meat, usually lamb or chicken, and a variety of vegetables. The broth is often colored red with tomato puree or yellow with saffron. A separate sauce is prepared with some of the broth and highly spiced with cayenne or chili pepper and a concentrate of red pimento called harissa and served beside the couscous.

The actual process of cooking the couscous is very simple, but calls for a subtle handling of the grain. The aim is to make it swell and become extremely light, each grain soft, delicate, velvety and separate from its neighbor. Bad handling of the grain will result in a lumpy and rather stodgy couscous. The grain must never cook in the sauce or broth, but only in the steam. It must not even touch the broth throughout the steaming. The couscousiere, the pot traditionally used, is in two parts, made from glazed earthenware or copper, and, more recently, aluminum. The bottom part is a large round pan in which the stew is cooked. The top consists of a sieve with widish holes – this holds the couscous. Continue reading