France is a cultural melting pot that you can experience firsthand by simply looking at the people and architecture in Paris. You can also taste the ethnic infusion in many French recipes. It may come as a surprise to learn that in some parts of France couscous has been 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 significant in the French diet.
The first time I tried couscous in Paris was at Chez Omar, the famed institution serving the semolina grains. Chez Omar doesn’t take reservations, and if you show up on a Sunday night, you’ll find yourself waiting in a long line to dine. Once seated, you’re only real decision is what to get with your couscous—merguez, chicken, lamb or beef. Having just returned from Morroco, I couldn’t get enough of the spicy local 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 overcooked 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 by making sure that food never needs 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 a little less messy, I came up with a couscous dish that uses just one pot. It taps into France’s rich cultural history with Moroccan ingredients and spices while incorporating a little French flair with piment d’Espelette and crisp fennel for a refreshing bite. It also pairs well with a wine like the 2011 Vignoble Réveille Climax Côtes du Roussillon.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon piment d’Espelette
½ pound merguez sausage
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half and sliced
1 cup couscous
1½ cups chicken broth
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Fluff with a fork and serve immediately.