I have been planning my big Moroccan dinner for months, and talking about hosting it for almost a year now! I bought a hand built tagine (stay tuned for tagine recipes and guides!) and a beautiful Moroccan copper Couscousier. Everyone that knows me knows how much I love to cook on traditional copper and tin lined cookware, so, when I found out that the Moroccan couscous is traditionally cooked in a copper couscousier with tin lining, I had to find it! Even if I had to pay ridiculous shipping fees to import it from Marrakesh.
It finally arrived a few weeks ago, and I have been dreaming up a perfect recipe to cook in it. In my research, I came across many recipes, some interesting, others disappointing. Most people’s definition of couscous preparation is boiling some water and waiting 7 minutes, I wanted to properly steam my couscous! Finally, I found Paula Wolfert’s comprehensive cookbook on Moroccan food and she talked me through properly steaming couscous. I wanted to go a step further and steam my couscous on the vapors my stew was creating, I think this is the traditional way! It makes a delicious complex flavor for the couscous, but admittedly takes a bit more careful planning with all of the timing of the steps. I include my process below, but I have also outlined how to steam couscous over water. This will make your dish less complicated to cook, so if you want to go with that (still completely authentic and amazing) plan, check out my instructions on Steaming Couscous here!
Lamb is the way to go for couscous! I knew I wanted to include lamb, and generally, most recipes I have seen call for raisins for sweetness. I wanted to try it with apricots and was not disappointed! I read somewhere that lamb is frequently mixed with chicken for family tagines, I figured that means it would also go well with duck! That way, I was able to replace all of the butter with duck fat…because honestly I just love duck fat and my fridge is full of it! If you don’t want to do a duck and lamb couscous, simply use 2 pounds of lamb and replace duck fat with butter everywhere it calls for it.
This is admittedly a complex dish, but nothing is really difficult, you just have to commit to an afternoon of cooking and following the steps. You don’t really need anything else to go along with it, it is a feast in and of itself. For our Moroccan dinner on the 24th, I will serve it with some bread and other dishes on the side, but truly, it is a feast for 10 in and of itself.
I am very thankful for my lovely parents who drive an hour to be guinea pigs for my experiments. My parents were really pleased with the dish. My dad claims he loves Moroccan food and laments not being allowed to come to the official Moroccan dinner because he has to help my mom photograph one of her operas.
I truly hope you enjoy this dish and don’t allow the list of steps scare you away!
Lamb and Duck Couscous with Apricots
saffron rice water:
1/4 cup boiling water
pinch of saffron
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried chickpeas
3 onions, sliced into 8 wedges
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 of saffron rice water
4 tbsp duck fat
1 – 1 1/2 pound lamb, cut into 1-2 inch chunks – I use shoulder or pieces of leg meat if I have it available
1/2 duck, broken down into pieces (google breaking down a duck)
12 cups water
5 carrots, peeled, and halved lengthwise
4-5 tomatoes peeled, cored, and chopped
2 tbsp. of coarsely chopped parsley
2 tbsp. of coarsely chopped cilantro
4 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise
9 onions, sliced into 8 wedges, boiled for 3 minutes
2/3 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
remaining 1/2 of saffron rice water
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp. ground singer
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. duck fat
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups meat broth (after it has been cooking for at least an hour)
4 cups couscous
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1 + cup meat broth
4 tbsp duck fat
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 tbsp. olive oil
red pepper sauce:
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. chicken broth concentrate
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
- night before:
Soak the 1/2 cup dried chickpeas in water overnight.
- the next day: Drain the chickpeas.
- Peel them by placing on one half of a kitchen towel, covering with the second half and rolling your hands back and forth, like you would to dry the side of a large dog. Most of the peels will come off. Discard them and boil the chickpeas for 20 minutes. Set aside. This can be done anywhere within the first hour or so of cooking. I boil them when I do the first steam of the couscous (step # ).
- for the saffron spice water:
Boil some water. Take 1/4 of a cup and combine with the saffron, turmeric, and cinnamon. Set aside to steep a few minutes.
- for the broth:
Combine onions, 1/2 of saffron spice water, salt, pepper, and duck fat in the bottom of a couscousier. Mix and cook for about 10 minutes until softened and golden.
Add duck and lamb to brown lightly.
Add water and bring to a boil. Simmer for two hours.
- for the couscous:
Meanwhile, place the couscous in a large shallow serving bowl and cover with two cups of water. Allow to stand for 1 minute and then stir. If there is any standing water, pour it off. I use an earthenware Moroccan bowl that seems to absorb a bit of the water so I never have extra, but if you are using plastic or metal you may.
Break up any lumps by rubbing grains with your fingers gently and raking through the grains.
- Place colander on top of the boiling meat broth in the couscousier. Line it with a cheesecloth, I read this makes it much easier to move the couscous back and forth. It does!
Pour in your couscous and allow to steam for 20 minutes. If any steam is escaping from the seam between your pot and steamer, seal it with some aluminum foil.
*this is the point at which I boil the chickpeas (step #3), this is where I also boil the 9 onions for the glaze.
- Remove to your large bowl and rake again. This time with a whisk or fork, it will be hot.
Carefully add in 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water, oil and salt.
- Separate all of the grains and let dry for 10 minutes.
*at this point, I remove 2 cups of broth from the couscousier and begin the first step in the glaze (step #11)
- Repeat the 20 minute steam, step #7 .
Rake again and add 1 cup of water. Allow to dry 10 minutes.
I soak the cheesecloth in water, wring it out and cover the couscous while I work on the other steps. Place another clean kitchen cloth on top of the couscous to keep the moisture in, set aside.
*It will stay this way for several hours without becoming stale if you need to do this ahead of time.
- for the glaze:
In a Dutch oven, combine 2 cups of meat broth, boiled onions, apricots, remaining saffron spice water, cinnamon powder and sticks, ginger, sugar, and duck fat.
Mix, season with salt and pepper, and cook covered on medium heat for 1 hour. Make sure to stir occasionally.
- After 1 hour, remove the lid and cook for 20-30 more minutes until the liquid is absorbed. It should look almost like an onion jam.
- meat broth continued:
While the onions are cooking in step #11, carefully remove the pieces of duck from the broth and place them on a cutting board to cool.
- Add the carrots, peeled tomatoes, and chickpeas to the broth. You may need to add some more water. Continue simmering for another half an hour or so.
- Once the duck is cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bone, remove the skin and return to the broth. Re-season broth with salt and pepper to taste.
- the final half hour!
Add the zucchini to the meat broth and simmer until soft, for about 5-10 minutes. Fish them out and set aside.
- Toast the almonds in oil for about 5 minutes until a bit more golden on both sides. Set aside.
- Check the seasoning of your broth again, adjust. Remove at least 1 cup of broth (strain it at this point) from the pot for the couscous. I always take out 1 1/2 cups just in case I need more. Make sure there is enough liquid in there to simmer for 15 minutes without burning, if not add a bit more water.
- Put the couscous back in the strainer for the couscousier and steam for another 10 minutes.
- Dump back into serving bowl and add butter and duck fat. Mix until melted, rake out any crumbles.
- Slowly sprinkle in the broth and allow to absorb for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine all of the ingredients for the red pepper sauce and boil for 5 minutes. Place in serving bowl.
- to serve:
Make a large well in the center of your serving bowl. Add the meat, it should be fairly dry at this point. If you have a lot of liquid, strain it out a bit and serve on the side.
Arrange the onion glaze in a ring around the meat.
Place the zucchini in a radiating pattern and arrange the almonds around as well.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with the red pepper sauce on the side.
Total cooking time: 3-4 hours depending on whether you stagger like I did. Serves 8-10 generously.