Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Now, About the Food...

Regarding the couscous party, Aunt Snow in the comments exhorted me to talk about "the food". Well, here comes the food post.

I'm going to preface my description of the food by noting, with some relief, that I had invited a young lady that I'd just met in a local pub to the party, but she had a prior family commitment and couldn't come. You ask yourself, "Why was he relieved that an attractive girl couldn't make this party?" Well, when I mentioned couscous, she said, "Couscous is easy to make, just get a box of Near East couscous, and add it to boiling water!" Yeah, and making risotto is just like boiling up some Uncle Ben's. If I had brought this beautiful barbarian to a Moroccan's apartment, both of us would have been asked to leave the premises.* I'm not knocking Near East couscous- I have two boxes in the kitchen, but it's a pre-steamed convenience product, not the sort of thing that a proud North African would serve to company at a dinner party.

The authentic couscous is sprinkled with salted water, then caressed like a lover with oiled hands so the water and oil are evenly distributed throughout the pasta and there are no large clumps. Then the couscous is placed on a cheesecloth to "rest" for a while. The couscous is then placed in the top portion of a steamer and steamed over a stew for about an hour. When it is done cooking, it is once again caressed with oiled hands to break up any clumps. My friend started the process of "caressing" the couscous the night before the dinner party.

My friend used lamb shoulder as the base of his stew, and added chickpeas and winter vegetables- cabbage, butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and onions- to the mix. Toward the end of the cooking process, he added tomatoes and two large jalapeños to the stew for added flavor. In a haute cuisine touch, he braised additional lamb shoulder to serve with the couscous.

To serve the couscous dish, he mounded the pasta on a plate the diameter of a sewer cap, and made a depression in the mound, like the caldera of a volcano. He placed the braised lamb in the "caldera", and distributed the vegetables around the mound. A Bronx-Irish friend looked at the cabbage, potatoes, and lamb and joked, "I thought this was going to be Moroccan food, not Irish food!" Bowls of the stock from the stew were placed strategically around the table so diners could moisten their couscous to their preference. Additionally, a large bowl of dark-brown caramelized onions and small bowls of harissa were available so diners could add them to the couscous to their individual tastes. Sprigs of cilantro were also on hand, to be added according to one's preference.

The typical Moroccan way to serve couscous is to place the serving dish in the middle of the table and the diners all have their "station" from which to grab from the main dish. This being hard to pull off in a NYC apartment without a large dining room, we all had individual plates. Diners could pick and choose which vegetables they wished to place on their plates (I glommed both jalapeños, and concentrated on my beloved parsnips), so even picky eaters would be well served by this presentation style.

* I must have mellowed considerably in my dotage- a few years ago, I probably would have yelled at the girl for being such a proud, unapologetic couscous n00b. I am reminded of a fundraising event a few years back which featured a display of artworks by young artists from Florence, and an array of olives, cheeses, and other fine Italian food products. Contemplating a round of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese the size of a tire, I turned to my friend Salvatore and said, "Hey, I wonder what the street value of this cheese is- it's gotta be about $800." A young lady overhearing me said, "Parmesan cheese is about $3.99 per pound in the supermarket." At that, I yelled at her, "This isn't Kraft, baby! This is the real deal, how dare you disrespect the cheese!" Oddly enough, I didn't go home with her.

9 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Oddly enough, I didn't go home with her.

At least you have a good excuse...
~

vacuumslayer said...

I think good-quality Parm is one of those things that helped make me into something of a foodie. I'm not even a big cheese-eater...but good Parm is so nutty and complex and yummy. Mmmmmmm. I want a nibble right now.

Embarrassed I've never heard of anything but quick-cook couscous...and I've certainly never felt it up.

Also: Caressing the couscous

TruculentandUnreliable said...

Sounds like dinner at my Libyan friend's house (NO WAY). Minus the harissa and caramelized onions and with bread.

And I laughed about your parmigiano reggiano story--I wouldn't have yelled at her, but I definitely would have judged her.

Tangentially related: a group of my friends imploded rather hideously and junior high-like, and I may or may not have said of a couple of a people who acted particularly nasty "I knew you couldn't trust those bitches the moment they started talking about The Bachelor."

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

hmpf. I heard there were drinks here.

M. Bouffant said...

Respecting the cheese!

hmpf. I heard there were drinks here.

You misspelled drunks.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

So I did.

Jennifer said...

Are you sure a couscous party is really what you're saying it is?? All of that oil and caressing... egads.

The food sounds delicious. I wish this blog was scratch and sniff.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

At least you have a good excuse...

It's weird, if I manage to get a woman I've just met angry at me, we usually end up sucking face by the end of the night, again proving that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

Also: Caressing the couscous

You have to strike a balance- if you engage in foreplay with the couscous, you're alright, if you engage in intercourse with it, WATCH OUT!!!

Also: Disrespecting the cheese

And I laughed about your parmigiano reggiano story--I wouldn't have yelled at her, but I definitely would have judged her.

I was already miffed at her, she had asked me how I knew a mutual friend, and I told her, "We teach children's judo classes." and she responded, "Doesn't that encourage them to be violent?" GRRR...

hmpf. I heard there were drinks here.

You misspelled drunks.


Drinks and drunks and aging punks.

The food sounds delicious. I wish this blog was scratch and sniff.

Looking at the phrase "Monkey Porn" in Monday's post will cure that!

Jennifer said...

This isn't Kraft, baby! This is the real deal, how dare you disrespect the cheese!

This sounds like it came from a Quentin Tarantino script..