The chicken can be a scraggy old boiler as it’s going to cook for ages. Similarly the meat should be cheap stewing cuts — breast or shoulder of lamb, shin of beef, hacked roughly into pieces. This is not an elegant dish!
Ras-el-hanout is a North African spice mixture. If you can’t get it or the French 4-épices, use paprika, cayenne, and coriander to season the stew.
Harissa is a kind of very hot chilli paste.
The vegetables can be varied although I think turnips and carrots are essential for the flavour.
You can cook the chickpeas from scratch yourself, but you have to soak them for ages beforehand. I think it’s easier to just use a can or jar (particularly if you didn’t think of making the couscous until the night before).
You will need a large stockpot with a lid which will take all the ingredients with room to spare.
This quantity will feed at least ten people.
1 lb stewing lamb
1 lb stewing beef
1/2 lb pumpkin (optional)
1-2 tbs. harissa
1 lb tinned chickpeas
1 large onion
2 tbs. ras-el-hanout
1 small red chili
4 large tomatoes
3/4 – 1 lb. couscous
2 oz butter
Ask the butcher to saw through any large bones in the meat, so you can divide it up into chunks. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the beef and lamb on all sides. Put in the stock pot. Slice the onion, saving the skin, and brown it in the same oil. Add to the stock pot, lay the onion skin on top, and cover copiously with cold water. Bring to the boil and skim to remove any scum which forms on top.
Peel and chop the tomatoes and add to the pot with the carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks, the cinnamon stick, and a generous pinch of saffron. Cover and leave to simmer for about 1 1/2 hours. If you are using a boiling chicken you can add it with the carrots, otherwise add it with the rest of the vegetables.
This can be done in advance — then you can leave the pot to cool and skim off any fat. About two hours before the meal, bring it back to simmering point, add the rest of the vegetables, cut into large chunks, the sultanas, the finely diced chili, the chickpeas, and the ras-el-hanout (and the chicken, if you didn’t put it in earlier). At this point, remove a cupful of stock and set aside. Continue to simmer with the lid on.
Traditionally, the couscous is steamed over the stew for half an hour or so. You can do this using a colander lined with a clean cloth, but all the couscous you buy in France these days is the ‘instant’ variety. This is cooked simply by bringing a volume of water equivalent to the volume of couscous to the boil in a large pan, adding salt, and then tipping in the couscous and giving it a quick swirl. Take off the heat, cover, and leave to absorb the water for 2-3 mins. Then add a few generous knobs of butter, return to a low heat, and break up the couscous with a fork for a few more minutes, until the grains are all detached and the butter has melted.
When you’re ready to eat, add as much harissa as you dare to the cup of stock you set aside earlier, and reheat. Fish the meat and chicken out of the stock — it should be falling off the bones — and cut up into pieces. To serve, give each person a plateful of couscous and ladle over a selection of meat and vegetables and some of the stock from the pot. The dish of hot sauce is served separately so everyone can add it according to taste.