Cuscusu di Trapani

Trapani Fish Couscous


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Italian Regional Cookbook

The Italian Regional Cookbook

By Valentina Harris

Published 2017

  • About

This dish comes from Trapani, where the salt flats of Sicily glisten under the sun. Couscous was introduced to the island centuries ago and was adopted so enthusiastically that it is now synonymous with Sicilian food. It is particularly popular in the west and on the outlying islets. Cooks often make couscous from scratch, using a bowl called a maffaradda to roll the damp semolina into tiny balls. This is a time-consuming task, so it is easier to use ready-made couscous.


  • 3 sachets powdered saffron, or a large pinch of saffron threads
  • 120 ml/4 fl oz/½ cup hot water
  • 400 g/14 oz/2⅓ cups coarse couscous
  • 90 ml/6 tbsp olive oil
  • 60 ml/4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and quartered
  • 1.2 kg/2 ½ lb mixed fish fillets, such as cod, eel, red mullet and John Dory
  • 1.5 ml/¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • sea salt and ground black pepper


  1. Put the saffron in a bowl and pour over the hot water. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes.
  2. Put the couscous into a large bowl. Strain in the saffron liquid, then mix together. Spread out on a large tray and leave to dry while you cook the fish.

  3. Heat half the olive oil in a large, deep pan. Add the parsley and garlic. Fry gently for 5 minutes, then add the onion and bay leaf. Fry for 5 minutes more, then add the tomato. Level the mixture in the pan and lay the fish fillets on top, in a single layer.

  4. Season and pour over water to cover. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with the tip of a knife.

  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fish fillets to a board. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and any remaining bones. Set the fish aside.
  6. Strain the liquid into a bowl. Pour 475 ml/15 fl oz/2 cups into a measuring jug or cup and set aside. If you have any left over, take note of the amount, pour it into a pan and top up with water to make 2 litres/ pints/8 cups. If no stock remains, just use water.
  7. Place a strainer over the pan containing the stock or water. Plug any gaps to prevent steam from escaping (see Cook’s Tip). Add the couscous.
  8. Stir the remaining 45ml/3 tbsp oil into the couscous. Cover the pan with a lid and then lay a thick, heavy cloth over the lid. Place over low heat and steam for about 40 minutes, or until the couscous is fluffy.
  9. Reheat the reserved stock. Transfer the couscous to a bowl and stir in half the hot fish stock. Cover with a lid, then wrap the bowl and the lid in the heavy cloth. Leave to stand while you gently reheat the fish in a separate pan with the remaining stock.

  10. Unwrap the couscous. Stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve with the fish on top.