Caribbean Cornmeal Cou-Cou

Caribbean Cornmeal Cou-Cou

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
Servings: 4 to 5 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
274 Calories
10g Fat
42g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 5
Amount per serving
Calories 274
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 15mg 5%
Sodium 501mg 22%
Total Carbohydrate 42g 15%
Dietary Fiber 5g 18%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 9mg 46%
Calcium 55mg 4%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 245mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Caribbean cou-cou (or coo coo) is, quite simply, a dish made of lightly seasoned cooked cornmeal mixed with okra and water. It is done low and slow until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture comes away easily from the sides of the pot. Though it takes some time, it's relatively easy to make at home and it makes a wonderful side dish to saucy fish, pork, and beef preparations.

Widely consumed in a variety of versions on Caribbean Islands from Trinidad to Antigua and Barbuda, cou-cou can take many forms but okra is a staple of the recipe. However, in many versions, the cooking liquid is replaced with coconut milk, making a creamier and heartier cou-cou dish. Many similar corn-based West African dishes—think ugali or fufu—show how much the cuisine of this area influenced the flavors and recipes of the Caribbean when enslaved people brought with them techniques and recipes and adapted them to what was available locally.

Eaten throughout the Caribbean under different names, cornmeal cou-cou is best eaten with a very saucy stew of fish, meat, or poultry. American and Italian cooks may find cou-cou similar to firm polenta. The key for a successful cou-cou lays in the vigorous stirring in the later stages of cooking, so much so, that in the Caribbean they have a specially designed cou-cou stick for this purpose. A flat wooden spoon to stir the thick cou-cou works great and will help you make a wonderful and delicious recipe. This dish is naturally gluten-free and can be made vegan-friendly by replacing the butter with plant-based margarine or butter. For this recipe, we suggest using fine cornmeal over a coarse grind.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fine cornmeal

  • 2 cups cold water

  • 1 tablespoon oil

  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced

  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced

  • 1 1/3 cups okra, thinly sliced

  • 4 cups water, boiling

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Caribbean Cornmeal Cou-Cou ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Soak the cornmeal in the cold water for 5 minutes.

    Soak the cornmeal in 2 cups water

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. In a large pot, heat the oil and gently saute the onions, garlic, and thyme for 1 to 2 minutes.

    onions, garlic and thyme cooking in oil

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Add the sliced okra to the pot and saute for 1 minute.

    add okra to the onion mixture in the pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Pour the boiling water into the pot with the onion-okra mixture and let the vegetables boil for 10 minutes.

    add water to the okra mixture in the pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra and onions to a small bowl and set them aside.

    okra removed from liquid in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Pour half of the liquid from the pot into a small bowl and reserve for later use.

    okra liquid in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  8. Turn the heat to low and simmer. Add the soaked cornmeal, plus the salt and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir constantly using a whisk to avoid lumps and keep the cornmeal mixture from scorching.

    cornmeal, butter and okra liquid in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  9. As the cornmeal begins to dry out, add the reserved cooking liquid in stages, stirring with a wooden spoon until the cornmeal is cooked. This process takes about 90 minutes. Stir the cou-cou at 15-minute intervals to ensure that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pot.

    cornmeal cooking in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  10. As the mixture begins to break away clean from the sides of the pot, add the okra and onions back and stir to incorporate fully.

    cornmeal and okra mixture cooking in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  11. Let the cou-cou continue to cook until it is firm but not stiff. The cou-cou should break away easily from the sides of the pot. Another way to check is to insert the wooden spoon into the middle of the cou-cou and see if it stands up—it also should be easily removed from the mixture.

    cou-cou cooking in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  12. Generously butter a bowl with the remaining butter, and once the mixture is properly cooked, pour it into the bowl, swirling it around to form a mold.

    cou-cou in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  13. Invert the bowl onto a serving platter so the cou-cou drops out in a nicely shaped mound. Eat right away.

    Caribbean Cornmeal Cou-Cou

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  14. Enjoy!

How to Serve Cou-Cou

To serve the cou-cou, create an indentation in the center of the inverted cou-cou and heap in stewed fish, meat, poultry, or vegetables, letting the rich sauce spill over the sides. Alternatively, divide the mixture into 4 to 5 smaller butter bowls and create the same indentation, stuffing it with your favorite stew or sauce and serve individual cou-cous.

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