Couscous with Brown Butter and Parsley
In this recipe from Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou, couscous is cooked in the traditional way. While the method is a bit labor-intensive, you’ll be rewarded with tender, fluffy grains that far surpass quick-cooking instant couscous.
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/8 tsp. saffron threads
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
- 1 medium onion, cut into large pieces
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 1 celery stalk, cut into large pieces
- 12 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus chopped parsley for
- 3 cups couscous (not instant)
- 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
In a pot, combine 2 cups of the stock, the olive oil, saffron and the 2 tsp. salt. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to infuse the liquid with the flavor of the saffron.
Fill the bottom of a couscoussier half-full with water. Add the onion, carrots, celery and parsley sprigs and bring to a simmer.
Put the couscous in the terra-cotta tray or in a very large bowl, pour the infused stock over it (if you like, strain the liquid so you won’t have pieces of saffron in your couscous) and let the couscous absorb the liquid, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.
Scoop up some of the couscous and rub it with your fingers to separate any lumps, letting it pour back onto the tray. Keep scooping and rubbing it this way until there are no lumps. Repeatedly separating the couscous into individual grains is an important part of the process, so be diligent and unhurried about this.
Meanwhile, increase the heat under the couscoussier to bring the water to a gentle boil; add more water if needed to maintain the level.
To steam the couscous, put the couscous in the steamer basket set over a plate to catch any grains that might come through (put them back in the basket). Run your fingers lightly over the top to make sure the couscous is evenly distributed, and set it over the gently boiling water. If necessary, carefully wrap a large piece of plastic wrap around the rim of the bottom pot to keep steam from escaping. Once you see steam coming from the top of the couscous, steam for 30 minutes. (Don’t put a lid on the couscous, and don’t stir it.)
Carefully remove the plastic wrap, if you used it, and then the steamer basket; always pull the basket toward you so you don’t get burned by the escaping steam. Spread the couscous in the terra-cotta tray or bowl and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, add enough water to the bottom of the couscoussier to bring its level back to the halfway point. Return to a boil. Clean and dry the steamer basket, discarding any couscous that stuck to it.
Run the couscous through your fingers as you did before to separate all the grains. If you come across any lumps that refuse to separate, discard them. When the couscous is at room temperature, you can begin the second steaming. Return the couscous to the steamer basket, add the plastic wrap if needed and steam for 15 to 30 minutes; the time will depend on how evenly the couscous is steaming. The couscous will take on a sweaty appearance and will feel tender.
Spread the couscous out on the tray or bowl as you did before and let cool. The couscous can be held at room temperature for several hours before the final steaming.
Put the remaining 1/2 cup stock in a spray bottle or in a bowl.
If you have let the couscous stand for a few hours and it is no longer warm, add water to the couscoussier to return it to the original level and bring the water to a gentle boil. Put the couscous into the steamer and steam it until it is warm. Then transfer the couscous to the terra-cotta tray or bowl and run it through your fingers to separate the grains.
To finish the couscous, return the couscous to the basket, set it over the bottom pot and bring the water to a gentle boil. Immediately begin to add the remaining stock, spraying the couscous with 15 to 20 sprays from the spray bottle or drizzling about 2 Tbs. of it over the grains. Continue to add the stock in the same way and stir occasionally for 15 minutes. (For this steaming only, stirring is necessary to fluff the couscous.)
Pour the couscous into the tray or bowl. It should have doubled in size to about 6 cups during the steaming process. Discard the steaming liquid and vegetables.
In a small fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter and continue to heat until it is a rich nutty brown color. Add the butter, to taste, to the couscous, season with salt and stir in chopped parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Adapted from Mourad: New Moroccan, by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan, 2011).