This traditional piece of cookware is essential in North African kitchens.
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Couscoussier from Williams-Sonoma
Credit: Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

Even if you've never heard of a couscoussier, you can probably guess what it's used to make by the name alone—and you would be right. It looks like a double boiler, functions like a steamer, and is a must for cooking perfect couscous, small semolina granules of rolled durum wheat. This is a popular piece of cookware in North Africa—so we wanted to learn more about the vessel and determine if home cooks need one.

What Is a Couscoussier?

This double-chamber pot is traditionally used to cook couscous in North Africa. It's made of three components: a stockpot, a steaming basket, and a lid. The stockpot is the base, and it's typically filled with water or broth. "The bottom pot usually contains a broth, vegetables, spices, meats, and a few cilantro and parsley bouquets," says Mehdi Boujrada, the founder of Villa Jerada (a company that makes Moroccan & Levantine food products) and a native Moroccan.

As the liquid in the pot heats up, the steam created via evaporation cooks the couscous in the steaming basket. While most couscoussiers you find on the market nowadays are made of copper or stainless steel, some areas in Morocco still use traditional straw or terra-cotta iterations, says Boujrada.

How to Use a Couscoussiers

According to Boujrada, here's how to best use this vessel:

  1. First, roll the couscous grains in olive oil, then sprinkle them with water. Place the couscous on the steamer basket and cook uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. To optimize steam retention, some cooks make a dough seal around the couscoussier.
  2. Next, remove the couscous from the pot, sprinkle it with more water, and fluff it by hand or with a whisk. Put the couscous back on the couscoussier and steam for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are fully plump and cooked.
  3. "We then transfer them to a plate or tray and add a little sprinkle of water, then saffron or turmeric with some olive oil or fermented Moroccan butter called smen," Boujrada said.
  4. Serve the couscous on a platter and top it with the vegetables, meat, and rich aromatic broth that was cooking in the pot below.

Common Mistakes

A common pitfall to avoid when using a couscoussier is overcooking or undercooking the vegetables and meat in the stockpot. "It's common for first-time users to be concerned about cooking vegetables and meats in the bottom portion of the pot and couscous on top and getting the timing right," says Boujrada.

If you're new to cooking couscous with a couscoussier, fill the bottom pot with just a chicken or vegetable broth seasoned with cilantro, parsley, and saffron, says Boujrada. Once you get a better sense of how long the couscous takes to make, try cooking the vegetables and protein at the same time and plan accordingly.

Do You Need a Couscoussiers to Make Couscous?

If you ask a Moroccan, the answer is a resounding yes. Ultimately, the couscoussier's shape that makes it invaluable, says Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta in New York City. "I have tried to use a regular steamer, but it just doesn't work as well," she says. (Admony is half Moroccan and used to own a restaurant solely focused on couscous—so she knows what she's talking about.) "The rounded pot creates more steam convection than a regular steamer, and the shallow insert allows the couscous to stay high enough above the water so that the grains do not become too wet and can separate more evenly," she says.

Traditional Uses

From a traditional perspective, "no Moroccan cook or household cooks couscous outside of a couscoussier—nobody has dared yet," Boujrada adds. "It's eaten once a week only or at special events and it always follows the traditions and principles of making it."

So, if you're making traditional couscous, which involves making the meat, vegetables, and grain together, it's worth picking up this piece of cookware. If you're cooking the type of instant couscous that is commonly found in American supermarkets, no steaming is necessary: You can stir it into a pot of boiling water, let it stand until it has absorbed the liquid, and then fluff it with a fork.

Alternative Uses for a Couscoussiers

If you own a couscoussier, it's likely an active component of your kitchen arsenal. "You can use it to steam anything!" Admony says. From vegetables like eggplant to grains like sticky rice, the couscoussier makes an excellent steamer. "If you want to make gluten-free couscous, you can steam cornmeal or fonio," she says.

Beyond steaming, the stockpot can be used to make soups and stews, notes Admony. Couscoussiers can also be used to cook any cuts of meat that need a lot of moisture to stay tender and juicy, explains Boujrada.

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