Seffa Medfouna is a famous Moroccan dish which features saffron chicken, lamb or beef hidden within a dome of steamed couscous or broken vermicelli. The couscous or vermicelli is sweetened with raisins, butter, and powdered sugar and decorated with fried almonds, cinnamon, and additional powdered sugar. Seffa may be prepared without the meat and served as a follow-up course to the entree. Both versions are popular on holidays or when entertaining.
What You'll Need
For the Seffa:
2 lbs. dry broken vermicelli or couscous
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup golden raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar, or to taste
For the Seffa Topping:
1/2 to 1 cup almonds (blanched and fried)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
For the Saffron Chicken or Meat:
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (or 2 lbs. cubed lamb or beef)
2 large sweet onions, chopped medium
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 small pieces (2 to 3") of cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
How to Make It
Steam the Couscous or Broken Vermicelli (Traditional Method)
Fill the base of a couscoussier with ample salted water, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce to a simmer, and proceed with steaming the couscous three times (add the raisins for the final steaming), or the broken vermicelli four to five times (add the raisins for the fourth steaming).
1st Steaming of the Vermicelli
Start by filling the base of a couscoussier at least halfway with salted water, and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low, enough to keep the water simmering rapidly.
Next, mix 3 tablespoons of oil into 2 lbs. of dry, broken vermicelli. Be sure all the strands are coated with oil.
2nd Steaming of the Vermicelli
Turn the vermicelli out into a very large bowl. Break it apart, and mix in about 1 1/4 cups water. The vermicelli should absorb most of it.
Put the vermicelli back into the steamer, and place it atop the couscoussier for the second steaming.
Allow to steam again for 20 minutes, timing from when you see the steam rise through the vermicelli. Again, you'll notice the ends of the vermicelli poking up.
3rd Steaming of the Vermicelli
Turn the vermicelli out into a large bowl, and break it apart.
Stir 2 teaspoons of salt into 2 cups of water, and add this to the vermicelli, tossing to mix well.
Put the vermicelli back into the steamer, and steam for a third time for 20 minutes. Again, time the steaming from when the steam rises from the vermicelli, and watch for the ends to poke up.
4th Steaming of the Vermicelli with Raisins
Now you'll be adding raisins. Turn the steamed vermicelli out into your large bowl. Break it apart, and mix in 1 cup of soaked golden raisins and 1 cup of water.
Transfer the vermicelli back into the steamer, and place atop the couscsoussier.
Steam for a fourth time, again about 20 minutes, timing from when the steam rises through the vermicelli.
Test the vermicelli. If you want it a little more tender, steam for a fifth time (see next step).
If you feel the vermicelli is tender enough, skip to step 9 to see how to decorate and serve the Seffa.
5th and Final Steaming of the Vermicelli
For this final steaming of the vermicelli, add only enough water – up to a cup – to make it a little more tender. Place back into the steamer, and steam for the final time for another 20 minutes. It should now be ready to serve.
View Step-by-Step process with pictures.
Cook the Saffron Chicken, Lamb or Beef
While you're steaming the couscous or broken vermicelli, also prepare the meat.
Mix the chicken, lamb or beef with the onions, spices, butter, oil and cilantro in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot.
Gently brown the chicken or meat over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Add enough water to just cover the meat.
Cover the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender. This will take about 1 hour for the chicken but may take longer for the lamb or beef. Avoid scorching the meat, and add a small amount of water to the lamb or beef during the cooking if necessary.
When the chicken or meat has been cooked, reduce the liquids until a thick sauce has formed. Discard the cinnamon stick, and taste for seasoning. If desired, remove the chicken from the bones.
Tip: Place the saffron in warm water and allow to sit for a few minutes prior to use.
Decorate and Serve Seffa Medfouna
Gently toss the steamed broken vermicelli or couscous with the butter and powdered sugar.
Place about 1/3 of this mixture on a very large serving dish.
Arrange the chicken or meat in the center, and cover with the sauce. Pile the rest of the couscous or vermicelli on top of the meat, using your hands to shape a dome.
Decorate the mound of seffa in a vertical pattern with the cinnamon, fried almonds and powdered sugar. Serve immediately, with small bowls of powdered sugar, ground almonds, and cinnamon on the side.
It's Moroccan tradition to gather around a single plate of Seffa Medfouna, with each person eating from his own side of the dish and adding additional almonds, cinnamon or sugar as desired.
Recipe by Christine Benlafquih