Recently two of The View from Fez team took part in a traditional couscous preparation course. Australia's legendary young chef, Katerina Annels, has kindly done a review for us. Suzanna Clarke took the photographs. Here is Katerina's report...
Mmmm, couscous, one of those lovely intangible things. When I am told that we are going to a traditional couscous class I am delighted. But when can I use this skill? I imagine a process like making fresh pasta, hours spent over the dough. Undoubtedly worth the effort, but a somewhat daunting experience and hardly commercially viable.
We wind our way to café clock. spiral past the kitchens, dining rooms and up on to the terrace, with views across the Medina and I am told, the best camel burger in Fez.
In the corner of the terrace is a collection of expats and tourists gathered around a huge pot full of chicken cabbage and spices(see the recipe attached) and emitting the most delightful smells. Amongst this group is Cynthia Berning, a young peace corps volunteer 1 year into her 2 year Morocco contract, and Atika Diouri, President of ENNAHDA (a women’s association, for cultural development, producing traditionally rolled couscous) our teachers.
We start with a coarse wheat flour, wholegrain is the best (it creates a wonderful nutty flavour to the couscous) placed in a large, flat, glazed ceramic tray. A light sprinkle of water (too much will make the couscous into a dough), and perhaps a pinch of salt. Using the flats of the hands we rub the water into the couscous, those with more practice creating beautiful spiral patterns, as the flour turns to crumbs.
Once the crumbs are formed the couscous is pasted through a course sieve, a little more flour (finer this time) is added to the crumbs too large to fit through the sieve, and remixed until they to pass through.
Next the couscous is passed through a fine sieve to remove the flour, more water is added to the flour, and the above process is repeated until all the flour is transformed in to little balls neatly sized between the two sieves (the more uniform you wish your couscous to be, the closer in size you make your two sieves).
Once all the couscous has passed through both sieves it is ready to stream, we steam for approximately 20 mins, over the sauce and without a lid. Don’t worry about the holes in the steamer; any couscous that falls through will simply thicken your sauce. After approximately 20min the couscous will begin to pull away from the edge of the steamer, this is the sign that your couscous is ready for the first fluff.
Atika fluffs the couscous with her bare hands, first pushing the couscous apart, then very lightly and gently rubbing it between her hands to separate the grains. The rest of us look on with various degrees of horror imagining the steam scalding delicate hands and fingers. She waits, fingers unscathed, as Cynthia explains that at this point you can dry the couscous, laying it flat in the sun, till it is darker and dry.
If you’re not drying your couscous but wish to eat it, it’s time to add more water, sprinkling and mixing as we did earlier. You can add water more liberally now that the wheat is cooked it is less likely to turn to dough, however do it gradually as you want moist not sodden couscous. Once fluffed and moistened place your couscous back in the steamer and steam until it yet again pulls away from the side of the streamer, approximately 20 min.
Once again we fluff and moisten the couscous, this time adding a little oil and salt. Then its back in the steamer, one last time. And suddenly there it is
Delicious hand rolled couscous, soft, slightly chewy, irregular, nutty and utterly delicious. This is the real deal. It’s as different from the dried couscous and cheddar is from brie.
Variations include adding dried herbs, salt and spices or using a different base flour, semolina, barley and corn flour to name just a few.
Can I see myself making this? Yes, yes and one thousand times yes, this is the real deal, I am delighted at the thought of bringing out a dish of fresh made couscous to a table full of patrons, who think they know what couscous is (as I did) and watching their faces melt as they saver the taste.
Perhaps you are lucky and have grown up with this, wondering at my amazement. But perhaps you are enthralled and wish to try? By all means do it at home, it’s far easier than you imagine. But if you want a little more guidance, or an adventure, Cafe Clock runs half day couscous rolling workshops, you can also do a full day course with the women from ENNAHDA including a home stay in Khoukhat. Khoukhat, 2.5 hours south of Fez, is known as the valley of 7 springs. El Karma spring, the fig spring, is considered the life blood of the village, and it is after this spring that the women of ENNAHDA have branded their couscous, made and dried as listed above.
If you wish to try handmade couscous but without the effort, you can contact them direct (en.associationennahda.org ) or buy through Cafe Clock, the cost is approximately 20 dirhams/kg
The View from Fez would like to thank Kat for her report and for her amazing cooking while in Fez. See also : More on traditional couscous
The Kat in her natural environment!