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Cornmeal Cou-cou


Cornmeal Cou-cou

Cornmeal Cou-cou

Photo by Cynthia Nelson

Cornmeal Cou-cou is cornmeal cooked with okra and water, low and slow until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture comes away easily from the sides of the pot. Each Caribbean country has its own version of the dish and various flavorings. The dish has its origins in West Africa.

Cornmeal Cou-cou is one-half of Barbados' national dish of Cou-cou and Flying Fish. Cou-cou is best eaten with a very saucy stew - fish, meat or poultry. As a reference for US and Italian readers, think of it as firm polenta. 

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 - 5


  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp minced thyme
  • 1 + 1/3 cup thinly sliced okra
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter, plus extra for buttering dish


  1. Soak cornmeal in the 2 cups water for 5 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in pot and gently saute onions, garlic and thyme for 1 - 2 minutes.
  3. Add sliced okra and saute for 1 minute.
  4. Pour boiling water into pot with onions-okra mixture and let boil for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra to a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Pour out half of the liquid from the pot into a small bowl and reserve for later use.
  6. Turn heat to low/simmer. Add the soaked cornmeal, salt and butter; stir constantly using a whisk to avoid lumps and the cornmeal mixture from scorching.
  7. As the cornmeal begins to dry out, add the reserved 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.
  8. As the mixture begins to break away clean from the sides of the pot, add back the okra and stir to incorporate fully.
  9. Let Cou-cou continue to cook until firm (but not stiff). The Cou-cou should break away easily from the sides of the pot; or when you insert the spoon in the middle of the Cou-cou, it should stand and remove easily from the mixture.
  10. Transfer the Cou-cou into a generously buttered bowl and swirl it around to form a mold. Invert the bowl with Cou-cou onto a platter.
  11. Create an indentation in the center of the Cou-cou and heap with stewed fish, meat, poultry or vegetables letting the rich sauce spill over to the sides.

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