Seafood Cous Cous

The final dish in the series of Sicilian dishes I cooked for my parents is a seafood cous cous. I’m hesitant to refer to it as “Cous Cous Siciliano”, because I used a few shortcuts. You see, traditional cous cous in Sicily is made from scratch from coarse semolina flour and water, and then steamed in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom called a cuscussiera. The cuscussiera is sealed to the pot with simmering water underneath by a simple dough of flour and water. Instead, I used store-bought cous cous (also made from semolina flour) and followed the instruction on the package for cooking it, which says: combine the cous cous with an equal amount of hot water or stock, cover, and wait 7 minutes. That is indeed a whole lot easier, and although I didn’t do a side by side comparison the cous cous didn’t seem any different from what I remember from trying it in Sicily.

In Sicily, cous cous is flavored with bay leaf, cinnamon, almonds, parsley, onion, and garlic, and served with a tomato-fish stock and fish. I made up this recipe using this general guideline and using gurnard (“rode poon” in Dutch) and mussels as the seafood and we loved it. They keys to great cous cous are fresh fish, homemade stock, and not overcooking the fish. When using store-bought cous cous, it’s not that hard. 

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I thought it would be nice to use fresh tomatoes, but they didn’t fall apart completely in the stock and I had to use an immersion blender which clouded the stock. So next time I will use tomato paste instead, which I have already incorporated in the recipe below (although you do see the fresh tomatoes in the photos).

Ingredients

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For 4 modest servings

240 grams (1 cup) cous cous

4 small or 2 large gurnards, about 800 grams (1.8 lbs) total weight

500 grams (1.1 lbs) mussels

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon

2 Tbsp double-concentrated tomato paste

2 Tbsp coarsely ground almonds

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp olive oil

Preparation

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Cut the fillets from the fish. Keep the heads and bones, but discard the gills and eyes. You can ask your fishmonger to do this for you.

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Soak the fish bones and heads in cold water to remove any blood and odors.

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Put the fish heads and bones in a pot, cover with about 500 ml (2 cups) of cold water and bring to a boil.

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Remove the scum that will rise to the surface with a skimmer.

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Add a bay leaf (and parsley stalks). Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

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Put the mussels in a pot. Add about 125 ml (1/2 cup) of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened.

Drain the mussels, reserving the mussel stock. Filter the mussel stock with a sieve lined with a cheesecloth or a paper towel. Take most of the mussels out of the shell, but keep 12 nice-looking mussels in their shells for garnish.

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Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven and add the garlic and onion. Sauté for a few minutes over medium heat or until the onion is translucent.

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I used fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped. I added them to the onion mixture.

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Add the mussel stock, a bay leaf, and the cinnamon stick.

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Sieve the fish stock and add it as well. This is where you add the tomato paste.

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I cooked the tomatoes with the stock for a while, but the tomatoes would not fall apart and I had to use an immersion blender. This is not needed if you used tomato paste instead.

Cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the stock with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the bay leaf and the cinnamon.

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Combine the cous cous with 240 ml (1 cup) of the stock in a saucepan.

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Add the ground almonds.

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Stir to mix.

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Cover and allow to rest for 7 minutes (or follow the package instructions for the cous cous you are using).

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Arrange the fish fillets and the mussels in the remaining stock in the Dutch oven. Cover the pot and turn off the heat to avoid overcooking the fish. Since the fillets are thin, they should be cooked through in the time needed for the cous cous.

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Serve the cous cous on warm plates with the seafood arranged on top. Reheat the stock before ladling it on top. Garnish with the parsley.

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17 thoughts on “Seafood Cous Cous

  1. Very nicely done, Stefan. This must have been one very delicious meal with layers upon layers of flavor. I really need to try this. We love seafood. Baby Lady adores mussels and we use cous cous frequently. Great post.

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  2. Hey Stefan, It would have never occur to me to use cinnamon and fish not to mention mussels together… but now I’m very curious to try that pairing. Great post, thanks for sharing! I should be back to blogging soon I hope, like in a week or so.

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  3. As I love Moroccan and Tunisian food I am also used to prepping couscous quite often. I have seen films of how it is made by hand, but do use store bought myself. Some comes too fine for me, usually one can pick up the rougher texture. Absolutely love your seafood spin on it: haven’t seen gurnards locally awhile, but many similar fishes would do. Shall report back 🙂 !

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  4. This sounds wonderful, Stefan. Making you own stock is, really, the only way to go with a dish like this. I can only imagine how good this tasted. I’ve seen 2 shows in which couscous was made by hand. Both were touring Sicily. It is a pasta that I’ll gladly buy rather than attempt to make it myself. 🙂

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