When I was living in Paris, I was surprised to learn that in some parts of France couscous was voted the favorite dish of the people. France’s century of intervention in North Africa brought many things, positive and negative, and in the kitchen, it left the French with a special taste for couscous that’s still a major part of the French diet.
The first time I tried couscous in Paris was at the famed institution serving the semolina grains, Chez Omar. Chez Omar doesn’t take reservations and if you show up on Sunday night, you’ll find yourself waiting in a long line to dine. Once seated, you’re only real decision is what you want with your couscous – merguez, chicken, lamb or beef. Having just returned from Morroco when I visited, I couldn’t get enough of the local, spicy sausage, so merguez it was.
An enormous silver platter with plain couscous piled high was the first to reach our table, followed by the grilled merguez and then a large bowl of over cooked vegetables in a light broth. I’m not sure what it is about the French and mushy vegetables, but I think they’re trying to save people’s teeth from ever having to give food a good chew. While I enjoyed the couscous and sausage, it was a little work chopping and combining all the ingredients for the perfect spoonful.
Always looking to make life a little easier, and with a little less mess, I came up with a couscous dish that uses just one pot and taps into France’s rich cultural history with Moroccan ingredients and spices while incorporating a little French flair with some piment d’esplette and crisp fennel for a refreshing bite.
Couscous with Chorizo and Fennel
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon piment d’esplette
- ½ pound merguez sausage
- 1 large fennel bulb, cut in half and sliced
- 1 cup couscous
- 1 ½ cup chicken broth
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add diced onion, stirring to coat in olive oil, cooking until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Toss in the cumin, oregano, cinnamon and piment d’Espelette. Stir until the onions are coated with the spices. Cook 3–5 minutes, until the mix begins to brown.
- Add merguez to the onion mixture until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Break up the merguez as it cooks, and then add fennel. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
- Pour the couscous into the pot and stir. Add the chicken broth and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to low and cover. Cook about 10 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.
- Fluff with a fork and serve immediately.
For more French recipes created during my stay in Paris, visit Girls' Guide to Paris.