How to cook couscous

Find out everything you need to know about preparing, cooking and eating couscous with our handy guide; plus a few of our best couscous recipes.

How to cook couscous

Wondering how to cook couscous? We’re here to help. In this article, we look at how to cook couscous in a bowl, on the hob, and the one-pot method.

Couscous is crushed durum wheat semolina that forms into small granules. It has a light texture that fluffs up when cooked and its mild flavour is great at absorbing the flavours of other ingredients that it is paired with.

It is a North African staple that has become a popular alternative to rice and pasta in the UK and it is particularly delicious in salads or served with casseroles or tagines.

Pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous or fregola, is similar to couscous in that it is also small granules of durum wheat semolina. However it is formed into slightly bigger and rounded granules, thus the name pearl, and as a result has a chewier texture and takes longer to cook.

It is toasted so has a slightly more pronounced flavour. You can cook it on the hob in vegetable stock for about 15 minutes. It does tend to be more expensive than couscous and can be found in health shops and supermarkets like Waitrose.

Is couscous healthy What does couscous taste like? Should you rinse couscous before cooking How to cook couscous Cooking couscous in a bowl How to cook couscous: on the hob Cooking couscous one-pot method How do you know when couscous is done? What to serve with couscous How to store couscous

How to cook couscous

Is couscous healthy?

Couscous is made of the same durum wheat semolina as most pasta and it is not as high protein and other nutritious compounds as some “super” whole grains like quinoa and farro but it can be consumed as part of a healthy and balanced diet. It is mainly carbohydrate, which though many diets scare us away from, is meant to make up about one-third of our daily food intake.

A portion of couscous for lunch or dinner is perfectly healthy within these guidelines. A recommended portion size is about 40-50g dried, which will yield 80-100g of cooked couscous. It is also high in fiber, which is an essential component of our diet. To increase the amount of fiber, look out for wholewheat couscous, which as a result of this higher fiber intake will make you feel fuller for longer.

As with most foods the way you prepare the couscous is also key to how “healthy” it is - couscous is great when steamed and with lots of herbs and vegetables stirred through and served with a lean protein like chicken breast. This will give you an enjoyable, filling, nutritious and balanced meal.

What does couscous taste like?

Couscous has a very mild and slightly nutty flavour. This means that you can serve with almost any dish or ingredient - it will actually absorb the flavour of any accompaniment which is why it is often served with richly flavoured tagines or a selection of herbs and spices.

Due to this mild flavour it is important to season it properly with salt or spices and is delicious with an extra virgin olive oil fluffed through it.

Do you rinse couscous before cooking?

There is no need to rinse couscous before you cook it. You can pour it straight from the container into the water and start cooking. There is really nothing that you need to do to prepare couscous prior to cooking - it is a very low maintenance grain.

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How to cook couscous

Couscous is simple and quick to cook - it is more of a rehydration process than a cooking process in fact.

How to cook couscous: in a bowl

  1. Place 200g of couscous in a heatproof bowl with a pinch of salt and 1tbsp of olive oil.
  2. Pour in 200ml of boiling water or hot stock. Cover with a plate and leave for 10-15 mins until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is soft.
  3. Fluff up with a fork.

How to cook couscous: on the hob

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  1. Add 150ml of water or stock to a medium pan with salt and 1tbsp of butter of olive oil. Bring to a boil and then stir in 100g couscous. Stir to evenly distribute the couscous amongst the liquid.
  2. Cover and leave for 10-15 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the couscous is soft.
  3. Remove from the heat and use a fork to fluff it up.

How to cook couscous: one-pot method

This is less traditional but couscous can also be added to a casserole or stew towards the end of cooking time to rehydrate it. For example remove the lamb from a lamb stew 10 mins before cooking, stir through the couscous and then return the lamb to the pan and serve.

How do you know when couscous is done?

Couscous is done when the couscous is soft and the soaking water has been absorbed. It may clump together so it is important to use a fork to fluff it and break up any clumps.

You may want to add a little more water at the end of cooking time if it is not soft enough and leave it for a few mins.

What to serve with couscous

Couscous is a wonderfully diverse ingredient. It can be served simply with a little salt and olive oil alongside a tagine. You could stir through a selection of fresh herbs and vegetables and enjoy it as a salad. You could stuff it into a red pepper or tomato with soft cheese. Here are some of our favourite couscous recipes...

Ras El Hanout honey chicken thighs recipe

Rich and flavourful chicken thighs served with fresh and herby couscous salad. The herbs really bring the couscous to life. It could be served on its own without the chicken if preferred.

Get the recipe: Ras El Hanout honey chicken thighs recipe

Easy couscous salad

Easy couscous salad

This lovely and simple salad would make a great weekday lunch option. Batch prepare it on Sunday and then enjoy it each day. The fresh tomatoes and cucumber add a burst of sweetness in each bite.

Get the recipe: Easy couscous salad

Stuffed peppers with courgette and mozzarella

1200 calorie meal planner

The subtle flavour of couscous is so delicious next to the sweet pepper and creamy mozzarella. The perfect vegetarian supper. Stuff spoonfuls of couscous into a sweet pepper casing and top with plenty of cheese.

Get the recipe: Stuffed peppers with courgette and mozzarella

Sea bass with couscous recipe

Though most commonly served as a vegetarian option or with meat couscous is also a great accompaniment for simply cooked fish. Couscous is paired with red onion in this recipe.

Get the recipe: Sea bass with couscous

Pan-fried lamb with giant couscous salad recipe

leftover lamb recipes: lamb couscous

If you have bought the pearl couscous but are not sure how to use it try this scrumptious pan-fried lamb recipe, served with a pearl, or giant, couscous salad. It looks and sounds very fancy but is surprisingly simple to prepare.

Get the recipe: Pan-fried lamb with giant couscous

How to store couscous

Keep uncooked couscous in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to a year. Once it is cooked couscous can be placed in an airtight container and stay in the fridge for up to 5 days.

It may be worth stirring through a little olive oil to keep it from drying out. You can also freeze couscous by allowing it to cool, placing it in an airtight container, and leaving it in the freezer for up to 6 months.

It is best not to freeze any other ingredients, like a stew, alongside the couscous. You can defrost it in the microwave with a couple of tablespoons of water, heating it in 1-minute blasts until hot.