Couscous is very popular in North Africa and is the national dish in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Its historical roots are ancient and have very strong ties to this region. It seems that the Berbers ate couscous around 1000 AD, while we have to wait till the 12th century to find the first written reference to couscous by an anonymous author. Couscous then came to Europe during the High Middle Ages, when the Moors conquered Christian Spain. There, they ate couscous in abundance during the religious holidays, so much so that the Holy Inquisition decided to ban couscous from Christian dining tables and to condemn it as a forbidden food. Culturally speaking, couscous is a staple food like bread or rice, very nutritious and very inexpensive, and able to be stored unspoilt for long periods of time, and therefore ideal for use when the weather is hot and the caravans are travelling for miles in the desert. For this recipe, however, we don’t want to go into the wilderness but just as far as Trapani! The fish market there is fabulous and every morning each stall has many different varieties of fresh fish available. My Italian friend wanted me to try the couscous the way they make it in his favourite restaurant, and I want to offer you my version here.
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Clean and fillet the fish. Remove the bones, being very careful not to leave any at all. With these bones and the head etc. make about 1.5 litres of fish stock. Cut the fillets and tomatoes into large chunks, the tomatoes after removing their skins. In an earthenware pan, fry a little garlic in olive oil and sauté the fish pieces. Add the tomatoes and the coarsely chopped almonds and continue cooking, adding some sugar. Now slowly add the fish stock, straining it through a fine sieve. When you have poured in a litre of stock, add the sea salt and the king prawns. Cook over a low heat for two hours, and as the stock evaporates add the remainder. Towards the end of cooking, add a pinch of ground cinnamon. Whilst the stock is cooking, soak the couscous with water, salt and a little olive oil for half an hour. The water should cover the couscous. When the water is absorbed, place the couscous in a colander (better if you have a terracotta couscous maker) and place the colander over the rest of the fish stock. Cover with a lid of the right size and bring the stock to a simmer once again. In about half an hour you will have couscous steamed over stock, having absorbed all the flavour! The fish couscous is ready: serve the stock in a terracotta pot and the couscous in another bowl and let your guests serve themselves; the couscous will soak up the stock.
Make the couscous, adding salt, oil and water, crumbling the couscous with your fingers until the water is absorbed
If you don’t have a couscous maker, improvise with a colander with small holes into which you transfer the couscous and place over the fish stock pan so as to effectively cook the couscous in the steam from the stock