Sicilian Seafood Couscous
1 hour, 10 minutes
Last week, I shared with you the Antipasti dishes for our Sicilian dinner, as well as two gorgeous pastas. Today, we finish our Sicilian pasta trio with a seemingly unusual choice for the region…the Sicilian Seafood Couscous!
The Primi course, which follows the antipasti, is generally formed of a pasta dish of some sort, and we did not disappoint. We served a trio of delicious seafood pastas. I created a Handmade Pasta with a Creamy and Lemony Ricotta which paired with a Squid Ink Sauce. It was divine! In addition we created a Spaghetti Nero D’Avola with a spicy tomato sauce of Mussels, Razor Clams, and Prawns. Not sure what Spaghetti Nero D’Avola means? It means I boiled my pasta in the Nero d’Avola red wine from Sicily instead of water. I saw this for the first time in Sicily, and fell in love! Our final pasta dish was one that seems a bit unconventional for Italy, but is actually a quintessentially Sicilian dish, a Seafood Couscous!
Sicily was full of so many gastronomic discoveries for me, and this dish exemplifies one of these. Couscous is not an unfamiliar dish for me, I have cooked this sumptuous dish for many special occasions, and it was one of the stars of our Moroccan Dinner last year. My “signature” couscous dish is a gorgeous Lamb and Duck Couscous with flavors that hail straight from North Africa, with a bit of a French twist (honestly because the first time I made it I had some parts of a duck left over after butchering it.) Check out the recipe for my Lamb and Duck Couscous with Apricots here! You can also see my comprehensive guide to Traditionally Steaming Couscous here!
As you can probably predict, in Sicily, couscous is served only with seafood, as fish and shellfish of all kinds are more than abundant on the island. I chose one of the traditional stew fishes for my dish, monkfish tail, but any whitefish would do (monkfish, grouper, or scorpion fish being the most traditional). Monkfish is a really amazing fish that I wish I had known about sooner! The tails, which you can see in the photo of my fish haul above) are quite substantial in size and have no bones except for a neat spine. The flesh can be removed by pulling on the end, almost like skinning a rabbit. The flesh itself is buttery and delicious, very similar in texture to lobster once cooked…and the best part… $3.50 per pound! This is the best deal ever, I will be cooking with monkfish more often.
For our couscous, I paired monkfish with a quick stew of carrots, celery, and tomato with basil, cinnamon, and saffron, a perfect mix of Sicilian and North African flavors. The broth is very quick to make, so you do not need to labor over it for hours like you would the Lamb and Duck couscous. I am really happy with this dish, it will be a perfect dish for spring and summer meals as the weather warms up!
Just hanging out in Syracuse looking at ancient ruins!
Last month, I finally made my trip to Sicily, the glorious land of fish, beautiful food, sunshine and Greek and Roman monuments. I landed in Catania and fell in love instantly. I ate some of the best food I have ever had, and was inspired to create some really incredible flavor combinations. I love pasta, and truly appreciate the art of making fresh homemade pasta. With that said, I always consider pasta dishes as a delicious but simple thing to cook when I don’t feel like doing something complex and crazy. Fresh and simple….but…I learned that is not always the case. I ate incredible pasta dishes with complex (and frequently multiple) sauces that intermingled on my plate in an explosion of flavors and visual elements. Creamy ricotta balanced with pitch black squid ink like black snakes making their way through a white sand beach.
I was so thrilled to come home and share the incredible cuisine I experienced with our friends, and this past Saturday, I finally had the opportunity. We hosted 17 of our lovely friends for a traditional Sicilian meal, which, unlike our traditional 3 course dinners, sported four courses. As per Sicilian tradition, we started with an antipasti course of Arancini, Croquettes, and Bruschetta.
To start our meal, we made a trio of delicious Antipasti. If you are already a lover of squid ink, try my Squid Ink Bread, which we used to create a Sea Urchin and Lardo Bruschetta. Alongside the bruschetta, we served some Spinach Arancini. We also served some incredibly delicious Milk and Cheese Croquettes (the recipe for which I will not share yet, as I am still figuring out how to prevent them from exploding while frying….the taste is divine though!).
The Secondi course generally consists of meats and fishes. We served an Eggplant Capotana with Swordfish, and a delicious and slow cooked Braised Lamb Shank Stew. Perhaps it was too much food, but I couldn’t think of a single dish to remove from the list.
We finished our meal with Cannoli made completely from scratch! Stay tuned for all of our recipes in the coming days!
- for the couscous
- 4 cups couscous
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup of the broth from your seafood stew
- for the seafood stew
- 4 pounds white fish (monkfish, grouper, or scorionfish), chopped to bite sized pieces
- 2 onions, large dice
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- handful of basil, chopped
- a handful of parsley, chopped
- 2 teaspoons of peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
- a big pinch of saffron
- For the couscous, pour enough water into your couscousier to allow for a steady boil for about an hour, if you can, but make sure you don’t add so much water that the colander will sit in water once it is added.
- Place the couscous in a large shallow serving bowl and cover with two cups of water. Allow to stand for 1 minute and then stir. If there is any standing water, pour it off. I use an earthenware Moroccan bowl that seems to absorb a bit of the water so I never have extra, but if you are using plastic or metal you may.
- Break up any lumps by rubbing grains with your fingers gently and raking through the grains. Do not panic if there are a lot of lumps, just carefully break them apart one by one, there will be fewer and fewer as you proceed with the steps.
- Place colander on top of the boiling water in the couscousier. Line it with a cheesecloth, this makes it much easier to move the couscous back and forth.
- Pour in your couscous and allow to steam for 20 minutes. If any steam is escaping from the seam between your pot and steamer, seal it with some aluminum foil.
Remove to your large bowl and rake again. This time with a whisk or fork, it will be hot.
- Carefully add in 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water, oil and salt.
- Separate all of the grains and let dry for 10 minutes.
- Repeat the 20 minute steam, step #5.
- Rake again and add 1 cup of water. Allow to dry 10 minutes.
I soak the cheesecloth in water, wring it out and cover the couscous while I work on the stew I will be serving it with. Place another clean kitchen cloth on top of the couscous to keep the moisture in, set aside.
*It will stay this way for several hours without becoming stale if you need to do this ahead of time.
- Put the couscous back in the strainer for the couscousier and steam for another 10 minutes.
- Dump back into serving bowl and olive oil and salt. Mix in and rake out any crumbles.
Slowly sprinkle in the broth and allow to absorb for 10 minutes.
- After the first steam, I start my seafood broth. In a large stock pot, cook the onion, celery, and carrots for about 10 minutes until softened and aromatic.
Add in the remaining ingredients and 4 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the fish has been cooked through.
Season with salt and adjust flavors as needed.
- Serve with the stew in a big well in the middle of your couscous. Serve any extra broth in a separate dish.