26 July 2013

Un couscous... royal

It always comes as a surprise to me when people visiting from the U.S. don't know what eating 'a' couscous involves. Sure, now nearly everybody knows what couscous is — the so-called "grain" I mean. People tell me they eat it as a breakfast cereal. But around the Mediterranean — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, France, etc. — a couscous is big bowl of tomato-based, spicy broth full of vegetables and meats that happens to be served with the couscous grain — a.k.a. semoule or semolina —along with meats and sausages.

I believe current polling shows that couscous has replaced more traditional French dishes like blanquette de veau or bœuf bourguignon as the favorite meal of most French people. Couscous is satisfying in winter because the broth is hot and the vegetables and meats are comforting. And couscous is delicious in summer because the broth is spicy and light, and because the meats served with it can be grilled over a fire.

Traditional couscous includes lamb in one form or another — spit-roasted lamb that's called méchouis, or lamb stewed in a sauce or right in the couscous broth. The lamb-and-beef sausages called merguez, often grilled, are served alongside. Other meats, including meatballs and chicken, are good too. You can make a couscous with rabbit or turkey, veal or mutton.

The vegetables are tomatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, green beans, zucchini, eggplant — either summer or winter vegetables. The most important thing is to have a spicy, herby broth to cook them in.

And finally, there are the garnishes. Chickpeas are pretty much required, and they are cooked and served separately (though you can also put them right into the broth). Plumped-up raisins lend a note of sweetness to complement the spiciness of the broth and meats. And then when it comes to spiciness, there's nothing to compare to the red-pepper paste called harissa that is inevitably served alongside couscous and broth.

Serve yourself "a mountain" of couscous grain in a shallow bowl. Dip into the broth to get some vegetables and meat and put everything over or around "the mountain." Then use a ladle to get a good serving of the couscous broth. Put a spoonful of harissa paste into the ladle of broth, stir it well, and dribble the mixture over the grain, vegetables, and meats. Don't forget the chickpeas and raisins. You won't need bread. Be careful — it's filling.


  1. I can't believe it's already three weeks ago we had that "Couscous Royal" at Le Vent de Sable. Time sure flies!

  2. Couscous is popular in France because it makes a delicious, satisfying meal. This restaurant seems very classy. Great photos too!

  3. I wish I could try a meal like that sometime!

  4. I learned about Couscous (the meal) from living in Paris that year I met you and Walt, and remember especially one Couscous outing with Jane and Aimée, at a restaurant on Boulevard Saint Germain. I still see it in my mind and remember how good it was!

  5. That looks like quite a meal! I've never experienced couscous with those accompaniements. It looks like it would have a very exotic taste. It would be fun to have someplace around here to try it.

    What would that plate cost one in Paris? Did the restaurant have the typical formula pricing? What were the desserts offered? Perhaps one wouldn't have room for a sweet afterwards (!).

  6. Not particularly fond of lamb. Haven't been about for a while. We're in Boston. Returning to Fort Ladeda on Sunday.

  7. Evelyn, next time you and L are in France...

    Mary, I think the Couscous Royal was 15 or 16 euros. There were ice cream concoctions, I remember.

  8. Bonsoir Ken

    Hope you have managed to get a slot for the Tour St Jacques.
    We are in the mid-coast of Maine since last Saturday afternoon and we have had different weather experiences during the past week. Today rain all day. The lobster festival starts on Wednesday July 31st. Enjoy your Paris trip

  9. Beav, see today's post. Thanks so much for telling me about the T. S-J being open for tours this summer. I mst have walked past it thousands of times over the past 43 years, but this was my first and maybe only chance ever to go inside and to the top. It was great. Hope you and Y enjoy your time in Maine.


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