Tips for preparing perfectly fluffy couscous

Couscous – a grain-like pasta made up of teeny-tiny balls of durum wheat semolina flour – is easy and super-quick to cook. Plus, it's versatile: For a warming dinner, add a hearty stew; for a light lunch, create a salad. Having been a traditional North African staple for hundreds of years, couscous is now popular all over the world. Couscous makes it easy to fill out the dinner plate with a satisfying side dish - but it also features in many main dishes.

It seems simple, but so much can go wrong

All too often, though, couscous turns out hard, dry, sticky or clumpy. Why? Well, most supermarkets sell an instant form, which is pre-steamed. So, in preparing it, you're not so much cooking couscous as rehydrating it. This means that even the smallest mistake – from using insufficient liquid to letting your couscous stand too long – can lead to unsatisfactory results. Never fear, this guide on how to cook couscous produces perfect results.

The good news is, with a few tricks up your sleeve, it's possible to create the perfectly fluffy couscous of your dreams. Here's what you need to know for perfect couscous:

Buy the right stuff.

Most supermarkets offer two types of dry couscous: refined and whole wheat couscous. Choose the latter. Not only does it fluff better, it also comes with the bonus of being more nutritious. Every whole-grain cup contains 3 grams of fiber, 0.72 milligrams of iron, 30 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of protein. Also be sure that you don't confuse regular couscous with Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous) - the cooking approach is totally different. We're talking about traditional tiny-grained couscous here.

Place the couscous in a shallow dish.

This trick works wonders. Many budding couscous masters make the mistake of dumping everything in a heatproof bowl. Instead, you should place the couscous in a shallow heatproof dish, then spread it out to create a thin layer. This gives each ball plenty of space to expand when water or stock is added – unencumbered by weight or pressure. Note that the more your couscous expands, the fluffier it will be.

Use the correct amount of water or stock

With too much liquid, your couscous will go soggy. With not enough, it'll be hard. So, take the time to make all measurements accurately. For every 2/3 cup couscous, you should add 1 cup of boiling water or (preferably) stock.

Season the water – or use stock

It's possible to use plain boiling water; however, for maximum flavor, it's best to add seasoning. The most straightforward option is salt (1/3 of a teaspoon salt for every 1 cup water) and/or olive oil (1 teaspoon for every 1 cup of water). You can also throw in some ginger, lemon zest, garlic and/or onion. Want even more deliciousness? Substitute the water with stock. Another, rather zesty alternative is half-water and half-orange juice. This is an excellent match for chicken.

Ensure the liquid is at optimum temperature

The next step is to boil water or stock, before pouring it gently over the couscous. Don't let the liquid cool.

Coucous Veggie Bowl - Jo-Sonn-580715-unsplash

Photo by Jo Sonn on Unsplash

Cover and let stand

Cover the dish with a lid, dinner plate or plastic film, then let the couscous steam undisturbed for 15 minutes, allowing it to absorb all the liquid. It's a good idea to set an alarm – if you lose track of time, you might end up with unappetizing clumps.

Get fluffing straight away

As soon as 15 minutes is up, drizzle a little olive oil over the couscous, to help separate the balls, then fluff them, using a fork (not a spoon). If you have time, then pour the couscous onto a baking sheet and break up the balls with your fingers. Either way, it's at this point that you'll see the magic working. Be thorough, to prevent the formation of clumps.

Lightly fry (optional)

For a toasty layer of flavor, you can fry the prepared couscous while you fluff it: Prepare the couscous in a frying pan, rather than a dish. After waiting the mandatory 15 minutes for the couscous to steam, drizzle it with olive oil, then turn on the heat to low and gently fry, while fluffing with a fork.

Serve warm

Given that you've been so particular with your preparation, don't let your couscous go cold! That'd be asking for clumps. Serve it up as soon as possible, while it's still warm.

Now that you've mastered the art of preparing perfectly fluffy couscous, why not try one of our many fabulous couscous recipes? Here are five recipe ideas that we love: