Don’t Make These Couscous Common Mistakes (Unlike Everyone Else)
Oh, couscous. Is there anything you can’t do? Couscous is a dried and cracked pasta made from semolina, like tiny pasta, meaning it cooks at lightning speed. It has a nutty, sweet flavor that pairs perfectly with stews, braises, and grilled or roasted veggies. But there are a lot of mistakes being made and crimes against couscous being committed as this grain joins the mainstream. Here they are, and here’s how to fix ’em.
1. Using Water
Never, ever, ever use plain water to cook your couscous, says Andy Baraghani, BA’s senior food editor. If you don’t have stock on hand, create an infused water by adding toasted star anise pods, crushed garlic and ginger, and/or half an onion. (Using larger spices and aromatics allows you to easily fish them out of the grains once they’re cooked). Optional: Baraghani prefers to cook couscous using a traditional steaming method: He places a sieve filled with dampened grains over two inches of seasoned water, brings it to a simmer, covers, and steams for 15 minutes before fluffing. This process is repeated two more times before serving. This method makes for impossibly fluffy couscous, but let’s be real: Who’s got that kind of time on a Wednesday evening? For your everyday couscous consumption, the “pour hot liquid over the grains, cover, steep, and fluff” method is absolutely sufficient.
2. Not Seasoning the Liquid with Salt
You salt the water when boiling spaghetti. You season the pot when making rice. So why wouldn’t you salt the cooking liquid before adding it to your couscous? Remember, says Baraghani, the grains will absorb the liquid and everything included in it. Although you’ll have to taste and adjust the seasoning once it’s cooked, get a leg up early and season from the start.
3. Being a Lazy Fluffer
Most recipes dictate fluffing the cooked grains before serving. If you’re just sticking a fork in the pot and stirring it around, you’re asking for patchy clumps. Take a few extra minutes to do it right. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and pour the cooked couscous on top. Use your fingers to gently break up the grains (Baraghani mists the pasta with a spray bottle of water first to aid in breaking them up—did we mention he takes his couscous very seriously?). “Each grain should have a distinct texture, like caviar, when you chew,” he explains.
Don’t drench your cooked couscous with a viscous vinaigrette—it should never have a wet texture. Taking the time to cook them properly results in a dish with subtle flavors (Nutty! Toasted! Spiced! Sweet!), and you won’t want to mask those under tons of sauce. A restrained drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or melted butter, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs (torn, not chopped to hell) will do the trick. Baraghani likes to serve couscous as a simple, unfussy side for braises and stews, rather than as a main dish packed with tons of add-ins. “I never want to see another cranberry or pumpkin seed in my couscous again,” he says. Duly noted, Andy.
5. Serving Cold
If not piping hot, couscous should be room temperature. Cold encourages clumping (and clumping = bad).
Now that you’ve mastered couscous, it’s time to make the best rice ever####