Fish Couscous with Charmoula

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

The Mediterranean Kitchen

By Joyce Goldstein

Published 1998

  • About

This much-requested Square One dish evolved from a combination of recipes. It either comes from North Africa via Sicily or the other way around. At first we called it Cuscusu Trapanese but realized after a while that this dish was much too spicy and North African in spirit to be a true Sicilian fish couscous. Paula Wolfert suggested a compromise—a couscous from Pantelleria, an island between Sicily and North Africa. Geography may be destiny, but our customers don’t seem to care what we call this fish ragout. They just keep requesting it, and we keep cooking it because we enjoy receiving compliments.

The cuscusu may be presented as a brothy soup with a few pieces of fish and a generous spoonful of steamed couscous, or it may be served as a fish ragout with just enough sauce to moisten the couscous and the fish.


  • Moroccan Charmoula
  • 2½ to 3 pounds rockfish, grouper, sea bass, flounder, and/or halibut fillets, cut into 3 by 2-inch pieces

Fish Soup Base

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 5 ribs celery, diced (about cups)
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and diced
  • 4 cups Fish Fumet, made with 2 or 3 dried hot peppers, several coriander seeds, and 1 cinnamon stick
  • Salt and ground pepper


  • cups water
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • cups medium-grain couscous (we use Ferrero)


  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup ground cumin
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


Rub all of the charmoula over the fish in a shallow nonaluminum container. Let marinate 2 to 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Prepare the fish soup base: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and celery; cook covered until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and spices; cook a few more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and fish fumet; simmer uncovered 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat just before serving.

Prepare the couscous: Heat the water, butter, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan to boiling. Pour the couscous grains into a 9-inch square baking dish. Add the hot water mixture and stir once to mix well. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and let stand about 10 minutes. Break up any lumps with a fork and fluff it with your fingers. The couscous can be kept warm over hot water for several hours; fluff it with a fork occasionally.

For the harissa, mix the cayenne and cumin in a mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice, then the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. This potent condiment should be used sparingly.

To bake the fish, heat the oven to 450°F. Arrange the fish on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little fish fumet, and bake until just cooked through, about 7 minutes. To poach the fish, add it to the hot soup base and simmer very gently until just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve, spoon the couscous into serving bowls and add the fish and soup base. Serve hot and pass the harissa.