April 2007

Technique: Hand-Rolled Couscous
Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by StarChefs

Each morning Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza takes out his ghassriya, a large earthenware bowl, and uses its surface to roll coarse semolina into small granules to be steamed three times, fluffed, and served as the base for many of his North African-inspired plates. Hand-rolling couscous is a tradition from his Moroccan upbringing; made fresh and moistened with a saffron infusion, the couscous is hearty, creamy and unbelievably flavorful, with a buttery texture unrivaled by the better-known dried version. Fresh couscous can last for up to a week – store in a pan with a towel or napkin both underneath and above the grains, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate – but Aziza uses such a large quantity that it is made daily, in a process that starts at 8 in the morning and isn’t finished until 4 in the afternoon. Leftover flour can be used to roll the next batch, and the larger clumps (separated in the 2nd sifting) can be worked into noodle-like shapes. Lahlou rolls them by hand, boils them, and serves them like fresh noodles. A snug-fitting colandar can be substituted for the couscousière, a special pot with a perforated steaming basket used to steam the couscous.

Step 1: Place coarse semolina in a large earthenware pot and sprinkle lightly with salted water.

Step 2: Move palm and fingers in a circular motion and continue to sprinkle with water to create tiny granules. Dust granules with fine semolina flour and repeat.

Step 3: When granules are formed, use a tamis to separate the excess flour, and then a sieve or strainer to separate couscous granules from the larger grains (the couscous will fall out, the larger clumps will stay in).

Step 4: Steam couscous for 20 minutes

Step 5:
Transfer couscous to a mixing bowl and add olive oil and a cup of liquid while raking the grains to break up clumps

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5

Step 7: Bring water back to a boil, return the couscous to the couscousière, and steam 25 minutes.

Step 8: Fluff couscous and incorporate butter with hands

Semolina in the ghassriya

Creating the granules of couscous

The semolina coming together

Running the couscous granules through a sieve

Couscous granules.

Making noodles with
the leftover semolina

Saffron infusion

Steaming in the couscousière

Hand-Rolled Couscous
Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by StarChefs.com


    Saffron Infusion:
  • 3¼ cups vegetable stock, unsalted
  • 6 strands Spanish saffron
  • 1½ teaspoons salt

  • 2 cups coarse organic semolina
  • Saffron Infusion
  • 2 cups regular or fine organic semolina flour
  • Water
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 6 sprigs Italian parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons butter


For the Saffron Infusion:
Bring ½ cup of vegetable stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Heat a dry 7-inch skillet over low heat and toast saffron strands for 1 minute, then transfer to a small bowl and crumble.

Mix saffron and salt with the warm vegetable stock and mix well. Cover tightly and let steep for 30 minutes, then strain the saffron infusion and discard the saffron threads. Mix the infusion with the remaining cold stock and set aside.

For the Couscous:
Place the coarse semolina in a large earthenware dish (“ghassriya”). Sprinkle ¼ cup of saffron infusion over the semolina while moving the palm and fingers of one hand in circular motion to create tiny granules. Once the granules begin to develop, dust the semolina flour over the granules and sprinkle ½ cup of the saffron infusion alternately on the granules while still moving hand in circular motion. Continue with this process until small couscous beads develop. Use a tamis to seperate excess flour, then a medium-holed sieve or strainer to separate the couscous from larger clumps and uneven beads. Save flour and beads for another use.

Fill the bottom unit of a couscousiére halfway with water and add carrots, onion, celery and parsley and bring to a boil. Transfer the couscous into the top unit of the couscousière and fit tightly onto the bottom part. Steam for 20 minutes.

Transfer the steamed couscous into a large mixing bowl and break up lumps with a large wooden spoon or simply by using your fingers. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the saffron infusion and rake the grains to keep them separate. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gradually add another cup of saffron infusion while raking the couscous. When the couscous has absorbed the entire infusion, repeat the steaming for another 20 minutes.

Return the couscous to the mixing bowl and sprinkle with another cup of the saffron infusion while working the couscous grains between your hands to separate. Bring water back to a boil, return the couscous to the couscousière, and steam 25 minutes.

Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a mixing bowl one last time. Fluff and incorporate the butter by gently rubbing couscous between the palms of your hands without applying too much pressure as the couscous beads might adhere to one another.
Keep warm until service.