Due to its strategic situation the island was contended by the Phoenicians, the Normans, the Spanish and the Arabs. The latest left a rich heritage in our architecture, culture and cuisine, and this recipe is a succulent example of it. The traditional north-African dish was adapted to the island resources and therefore garnished with fresh fish which is widely available.
Preparation time: 2 ¾ hours + 2 ½ hours resting
Cooking time: 45 minutes
6 cups couscous
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
For the fish broth
6 black peppercorns
1 onion, peeled
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs parsley
pinch of saffron threads
4 ½ lb mixed dish, such a scorpion fish, grouper, sea bream, conger eel,
For the sauce
1 onion, very thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¾ lb tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup blanched almonds
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups dish stock
For the couscousier
5 peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for deep-frying
6-8 swordfish slices
6-8 baby squid, cleaned
all-purpose flour, for dusting
16 uncooked shrimp, shells intact- 1 bunch of curly parsley
1 lemon, sliced
First, make the broth. Pour 6 ¼ cups water into a large pan, add the peppercorns, onion, bay leaves, parsley, saffron, and salt, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the fish to the pan and simmer for 30 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside until needed.
Meanwhile, put the couscous in a large dish. Whisk together 7 ½ cups warm water, the olive oil and a pinch of salt, then sprinkle the mixture over the couscous by hand. Separate the grains with your fingertips, cover with a wet towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
Make the sauce. Pour water into a frying pan or skillet to a depth of 2 ½ inches, add a pinch of salt and heat. Add the onion and garlic clove and cook until the liquid has evaporated, then add the olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the tomatoes, almonds and parsley, season with salt and cook, occasionally mashing the tomatoes with a fork, for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the garlic. Lift out the fish from the broth and remove and discard the skin. Remove and reserve any bones and flake the fish. Set aside. Strain the broth into the tomato sauce, stir in the fish stock and cook over medium heat until reduced and thickened. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Put the tomatoes, onion and reserved fish bones into the lower pot of a couscousier and season with salt and pepper. Almost fill with water, bearing in mind that it must not splash the upper pot of the couscousier during cooking. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
Cover the perforated base of the upper pot with a well wrung-out damp dish towel, letting the 4 corners overhand the side. Separate the grains of couscous with your fingertips. Put the bay leaves on the damp dish towel and add the couscous. Cover with the lid and tie the opposite corners of the dish towel over it. Put the upper pot of the couscousier in place and steam for 20 minutes. Remove the lid of the couscousier, add half the sauce and all the flaked fish. Close the pan again and continue cooking for another 10–15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the couscousier stand in the warm for 1 hour. Keep the remaining sauce warm.
Meanwhile, prepare the garnish. Whisk together the wine, olive oil and a pinch of pepper in a large dish. Add the swordfish slices and let marinate for 1 hour.Heat plenty of oil in a shallow pan. Dust the squid with flour. Add the shrimp and squid to the hot oil and cook for 5-8 minutes, until the shrimp have changed clor and the squid are golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Put the couscousier in the center of a warm serving dish and arrange the squid, shrimp, swordfish slices, curly parsley sprigs and slices of lemon around it. Discard the bay leaves and serve immediately.
We love to match it with a fresh glass of Paccamora Catarratto.