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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.