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.
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
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 serve, spoon the couscous into serving bowls and add the fish and soup base. Serve hot and pass the harissa.
© 1998 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.