How To Cook Couscous

uncooked couscous

Couscous is a staple food of North Africa. Although it looks like a grain and is generally treated like one for cooking purposes, it is best described as a type of pasta as it is a manufactured product, made from wheat semolina.

How To Cook Couscous

The traditional way to cook couscous is by steaming it in the top of a couscoussier while a stew simmers in the pot below. The idea is that the couscous will absorb the flavours of the main dish. In fact, tradition dictates that couscous should be steamed three times, fluffing and breaking up any clumps in between each steaming to ensure perfect results.

Most couscous sold in the West is partially cooked and then dried so steaming three times is probably overkill. This type of couscous can be prepared by simply soaking it in hot water for a few minutes - although steaming it (once) will vastly improve the texture.

What Is The Best Couscous To Water Ratio?

Ok, there is no exact rule. Sorry! I know, you probably want an exact rule and I will share my own recommendation but I would like to just explain a couple of the variants at work here.

Because couscous is a manufactured product, differences in the manufacturing process can cause some brands to cook more quickly or require varying amounts of liquid to prepare. There are tiny differences in the size of the 'grains' between manufacturers too which will impact the couscous to water ratio. Also, while perfectly cooked couscous should be light and fluffy, some people have a preference for a drier texture which again will influence the amount of water you need to add.

However, I think the best general guide when measuring couscous and water, is to use the the same volume of water as couscous. This always gives me excellent results. It also has advantage of being very easy to remember i.e. 1 cup of couscous to 1 cup of hot water. Using a metric system, the ratio is not so snappy but if you prefer to use weight rather than just volume, the equivalent is about 180g of couscous to 240mls of water.

Recipes vary widely in what they recommend - many are more generous with the water than I am - which is what causes so much confusion on how to make couscous. Personally I find being mean with the water is a good idea. It's fine to add a little more after 5 or 10 minutes if it seems a little dry.

How To Cook Couscous - Basic Easy Couscous For Four People

These are the very basic instructions on how to cook couscous. When I say this is enough for 4 people, this would be as a side. Olive oil or spices can be added with the water if you want to liven up this recipe a bit.


180g/1 cup of couscous

240ml/1 cup of hot water

Salt and pepper


  1. Put the couscous in a large bowl. Add the seasoning and pour over the water.
  2. Cover with a towel and leave for 10 to 15 minutes undisturbed, then fluff up with a fork. Never stir with a spoon as this will make the couscous mushy.

Steamed Couscous

Steaming the couscous gives a much lighter and fluffier result. If you have time or are making a special meal, it is well worth the little bit of extra effort.

  1. Follow the instructions for basic easy couscous above.
  2. After fluffing up the couscous, transfer to a steamer. If you don't have a steamer, put the couscous in a sieve lined with muslin or a clean tea-towel. Place the sieve over a pot of boiling water and cover.
  3. At this stage you can drizzle over a little olive oil or a dot the top of the couscous with butter. This is not essential but it will really give your couscous a wonderful flavour and texture.
  4. Steam the couscous for 10 minutes, fluff up with a fork again and serve.

Couscous is traditionally served with tagine but is also great in a salad or if you want to dress things up a bit, this Moroccan Couscous is pretty hard to beat.

Couscous Nutrition

Couscous is a wheat product and as such is not suitable for those on a wheat or gluten free diet. It is however, rich in Magnesium and Zinc as well as Vitamins B and E.


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