Seffa Medfouna is a variation of seffa, a well-loved Moroccan dish of steamed and sweetened couscous or broken vermicelli (chaariya) which is mounded on a platter and garnished with powdered sugar, ground fried almonds, raisins and cinnamon. In the case of medfouna, which means “buried,” saffron chicken, beef, or lamb is hidden within the decorated dome.
Presented that way, seffa medfouna is an impressive sweet and savory dish most likely to show up as one of several entrees at a special occasion or holiday meal. However, I do occasionally make it as a standalone meal for my kids.
In Casablanca, meat-free seffa is usually a follow-up course to a main dish. However, a vegetarian, nut-free version called seffa touba is served as a light dinner in Meknes and Fez. It’s sprinkled with orange flower water and offered alongside cold or warm milk. The milk is either enjoyed as a beverage to help wash down spoonfuls of seffa, or it’s mixed with seffa in individual bowls to make an instant soup or thick porridge.
Whether you use couscous or broken vermicelli for seffa medfouna, steaming in a couscoussier is best for authentic results. Steaming plumps and tenderizes the couscous or pasta without making it sticky, wet or heavy.
The chicken or meat with saffron sauce is easy to make and will cook separately while you’re steaming the couscous or pasta. If you’re not familiar with the steaming process, please refer to the tutorials below:
A classic Moroccan dish of steamed, sweetened couscous or broken vermicelli. Chicken, lamb or beef is cooked in a butter and saffron sauce and buried within a mound of the couscous or pasta.
- 2.2 lbs dry broken vermicelli, angel hair pasta or couscous
- 3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil (for steaming)
- 2 tsp salt (for steaming)
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature (for sweetening after final steaming)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, or to taste (for sweetening after final steaming)
- 1 cup raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes
- 1 tbsp butter (optional; for caramelizing)
- 1 tbsp sugar or honey (optional; for caramelizing)
- 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces and skin removed (or 2 lbs. cubed lamb or beef)
- 2 large sweet onions, chopped medium
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 small pieces (2 to 3") of cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 cup almonds (blanched, fried and ground)
- 1 cup powdered sugar,
- 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- caramelized raisins (optional, if you didn't steam the raisins with the couscous or vermicelli)
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 or broken vermicelli.
Raisins are a traditional but optional addition to seffa. If using them, add the soaked, drained raisins to the final steaming of the couscous or the fourth steaming of the vermicelli.
Instead of steaming, you can caramelize the raisins to use as a garnish or to offer on the side. To do this, place the raisins in a small pot and add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Add enough water to cover the raisins and simmer until the liquids are absorbed. Set the raisins aside until needed.
While the seffa is steaming, cook the saffron chicken or meat.
In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, mix the chicken, lamb or beef with the onions, spices, butter, oil and cilantro. Cook gently over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to brown the chicken or meat on all sides.
If cooking chicken, don't add water unless absolutely necessary as the chicken will braise in its own juices. If preparing lamb or beef, add enough water to just cover the meat. Bring the liquids to a simmer.
Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender. This will take about 1 hour for the chicken, but beef or lamb will take longer. Be careful not to burn the chicken or meat as it will ruin the sauce, and add only small amounts of water to the lamb or beef as necessary.
When the chicken or meat is tender, reduce the liquids until a thick sauce has formed. Discard the cinnamon stick, adjust seasoning and remove from the heat.
If the chicken or meat has cooled, reheat it over medium-low heat.
After its final steaming, sweeten the hot broken vermicelli or couscous by tossing it with the butter and powdered sugar to taste.
Layer 1/4 to 1/3 of the steamed vermicelli mixture on a very large serving dish. Arrange the chicken or meat in the center and cover with the sauce.
Arrange the remaining couscous or vermicelli on top of the meat, using your hands to shape a dome.
Decorate the mound of seffa in with the cinnamon, ground almonds and optionally the raisins. Powdered sugar can be sifted over the top, arranged as a garnish, or simply offered on the side.
Serve immediately, with small bowls of powdered sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon on the side. (Caramelized raisins can also be offered on the side instead of as a garnish.)
It's Moroccan tradition to gather around the seffa, with each person eating from his own side of the dish.
- For an extra rich sauce, replace the olive oil with additional butter.
- You can remove the chicken from the bones before arranging it in the seffa, but I don't usually bother.
- If preparing the seffa with lamb or beef, select tender, boneless cuts for best results.
- I originally learned to make seffa with raisins steamed directly with the couscous or pasta. However, caramelizing the raisins allows them to be served on the side or easily avoided by those who don't like them.
- I usually grind the fried almonds with a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar and a teaspoon or two of orange flower water. They're very good that way!
- You can toast blanched almonds instead of frying. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° F (180° C), stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.