Sicilian Couscous

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


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Recipes from an Italian Farmhouse

Recipes from an Italian Farmhouse

By Valentina Harris

Published 1995

  • About

The Arab dish of couscous is very popular in eastern Sicily where housewives prepare it regularly and therefore have all the correct equipment. They start by making the couscous itself, which is then steamed and served with a delicious fish stew, which is also called couscous. You can buy dried North African couscous ready-made and this will need the same long cooking time. If you use 1 kg ( lb) instant couscous, soak it for 10 minutes in boiling fish broth, then fork it, to separate the grains. Or serve the fish couscous with rice. In all these cases I would compensate by adding the saffron to the fish stew.


Home-Made Couscous

  • 200 g (7 oz) fine grain semolina
  • 200 g (7 oz) thick grain semolina
  • ½ teaspoon powdered saffron
  • 100 ml ( fl oz) hot water
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • a large pinch of ground cinnamon
  • a large pinch of grated nutmeg
  • fish stock or water, to steam

Fish Stew

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 50 ml ( pt) olive oil
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1.2 kg ( lb) assorted fish such as mackerel, cod, eel, cleaned and gutted
  • salt and pepper


Mix the semolinas together very carefully. Dissolve the saffron in hot water, then put 1 tablespoonful of the diluted saffron into a large wide bowl with a handful of semolina. Rub the semolinas up the sides and across the bottom of the bowl, making it granular (pieces no bigger than a peppercorn), then scoop out the couscous and spread on a clean tablecloth.

Go through all the semolina this way, a small amount at a time with a little bright yellow saffron water. Leave it spread out like this to dry out.

Pour the stock or water into a pan and put a large metal colander on top. Wrap a cloth around the colander where it meets the top of the pot so as not to lose any of the steam in the next stage of cooking.

Tip the granular couscous into the colander and pour the olive oil over it. Mix together with your hands and then lay a heavy clean cloth on top of the grains and a lid on top of that. Bring the liquid to the boil and let it boil very slowly, for 1½ hours so the couscous cooks in the steam coming through the holes of the colander.

After about 1 hour, start the fish stew. Fry the garlic and the oil in a large pan or flameproof casserole with the parsley and onion for about 3 minutes, then add the bay leaf and tomatoes. Cook for about 5 – 6 minutes, then add all the fish and season with salt and pepper. Add about 600 ml (1 pint) water, enough to cover the fish, then cover with a lid and simmer for about 25 minutes.

When the couscous is ready, tip it into a bowl, sprinkle about 5 tablespoons of the liquid used for steaming over the grains and stir them well to separate them. Cover with a lid, wrap the bowl up in a woollen cloth or towel and put it in a warm place to swell. Overall, it will need about 1 hour to swell.

When the fish is ready, scoop out the pieces with a slotted spoon and keep in a warm place. Pour the fish broth through a strainer – there should be about 500 ml (18 fl oz Pour half of this into another jug and let it cool a little, so that it thickens to make the final sauce. Meanwhile, the couscous needs sprinkling with as much fish broth as it will absorb every 15 minutes, and stirring each time to make sure the grains are not sticking together. Keep it warm all the time.

After an hour, dress the couscous with the pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg and a little of the reserved fish broth. Arrange the hot fish on top and serve at once.