Sunday, January 4, 2015

Fish Steamed with Spicy Couscous

For this fish steamed with spice couscous, the fish fillets are steamed on top of the couscous so all the lovely cooking juices are soaked up, making the already spicy, herby couscous even tastier.

This is one of my favorite dishes to make when entertaining guests. See easy instructions to adapt for a dinner party at the end of the recipe.*

Parlez-vous français? Yeah, I really didn't either.
To say that three years of high school French prepared me poorly for living in Paris would be an understatement. As much as Madame Reat taught me about La Belle France, including our occasional field trips to a nearby French café where we were supposed to order in French to justify the educational status of said excursion, I learned more useful things by reading signs and labels in grocery stores and recipes on my own. 

I now know weird but handy phrases like laissez gonfler - leave to swell -  and saupoudrer de chapelure – sprinkle with breadcrumbs - and napper en sauce – coat with sauce - that hardly ever come up in normal conversation. 

Not a culinary word, but one I am very proud of learning is autocollant. It means self-adhesive. Not useful you say? Try ordering stamps and imagine miming, "the ones I don't need to lick," at the post office. 

Probably more importantly, I learned that Ah, bon, despite containing the word for good, can be used to acknowledge good or bad things, a confirmation akin to “I hear you”  - or a question, depending on inflection: “Really?”

Répétez après moi: Le couscous est simple à préparer.
I am always on the lookout for new and different starches to add variety to our plates, outside the usual triumvirate rice/potatoes/pasta so I was delighted to come across couscous for the first time in France. It’s a staple there, I am guessing thanks to the North African influence from the former French colonies. 

It has since become essential in my cupboard as well and the instructions on that first box of couscous, graine moyenne or medium coarse, is the source for my pet phrase laissez gonfler, which I have managed to work into more conversations that you would imagine. 

This spicy dish is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe from a series called Oliver’s Twist. I’ve been making it regularly since 2003 when the episode Flash in the Pan first aired. It’s perfect for this week’s Sunday Supper theme of Lighten Up for the New Year, with lots of flavor from the spices and cilantro and very healthy steamed fish on top. Make sure to scroll down to see all the other lovely lightened up recipes the group has made for you today!

For the spice mix:
1 1/2 teaspoons flakey sea salt (I use Maldon.)
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 (2-inch or 2.5cm) piece cinnamon stick

For the dish:
2 cups or 370g wheat couscous – medium grain
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 red chilies (Remove the seeds for less heat.)
1 large bunch cilantro or fresh coriander, leaves picked, stalks finely sliced
Four portion size filets of a relatively thin white fish like sole or flounder. Cod will do if it is not too thick.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning fish
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Couple of handfuls cherry tomatoes (more or less to your taste)
1 large lemon, cut in half at the equator
Optional: another lemon cut in wedges for serving.

Put the couscous in a bowl with enough hot - but not quite boiling - water to cover it. Seal the top of the bowl with cling film and then drape a towel over the top and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Laissez gonfler!

 The couscous will soften and double in size. When it's done, fluff it with a fork and keep covered till needed.

Make your spice mix by pounding the salt, fennel and cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cinnamon together in your mortar.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use already ground spices.)

Mince your onion and one chili pepper. Slice the garlic and the other chili.

Cut the very tough bottom parts of your cilantro stems off and discard. Finely chop the rest of the stems up to the leafy part and then roughly chop the leaves. Some leaves are going to get in your stems and, of course, your leaf pile will have the most tender stems, and that’s okay.

Mostly leaves in front. Most stems in back.

Lay your fish out on a plate and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a large saucepan on a low heat, and sauté the onion, garlic, cilantro stems and chopped chili in a good drizzle of olive oil.

Add the spice mix to the pan with another drizzle of olive oil.

Cook for a few minutes and then add the butter. Let it melt then add the couscous.

Mix thoroughly with the spices and sautéed seasonings. Stir in most of the cilantro leaves, reserving some for garnish when serving.

 Turn the stove down to a very low heat, and lay the fish fillets on top of the couscous. Drizzle with olive oil and tuck the lemon halves, cut side up, and the whole cherry tomatoes in the couscous.

Cover with some foil or a tight fitting lid, and cook for 15 minutes or until the fish is white through and flaky. You may need to add just a little bit of water so that the couscous doesn’t burn on the bottom, so do check it about halfway through. A very heavy pan or a diffuser will help with this problem.

Adding a few tablespoons of water about halfway through.

To serve, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and sliced chili, squeeze the cooked lemon halves over everything and drizzle on some more olive oil. Divide the couscous between four plates and top each with a steamed fish fillet. Serve with additional wedges of lemon, if desired.

*Dinner party instructions
If you are having a dinner party for eight or 12, double or treble the ingredients and prepare as instructed up to the point where the couscous is ready. Allow it to cool then transfer to a greased baking pan (Make sure it is one that can go straight from refrigerator to oven) before adding the fish, the halved lemons cut side up, cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. If you want to get fancy, throw in some raw shrimp or prawns as well. Cover with foil and refrigerate if it’s going to be more that a half an hour till it’s cooked or if your kitchen is warm. Once the guests have arrived, bake your fish on couscous- still covered in the foil - in an oven preheated to 350°F or 180°C, allowing extra time for cooking the fish if the dish is chilled. Follow the same serving instructions above.


If your New Year’s resolutions include eating more sensibly, I’ve got a great list of “lightened up” recipes for you this week. Many thanks to our great host T.R. from Gluten Free Crumbley!

Bright Beverages
Blissful Breakfast Items
Appetizing Starters
Savory Soups and Sides
Marvelous Mains
Delightful Desserts

1 comment :

  1. My son was just asking for couscous last night so I know this dish would be favorite in our house!


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