I was finally lucky enough to snag some never frozen Alaskan halibut fillets from my local fishmonger and while lemon caper sauces and blackening seasoning are tried and true favorites, I’ve had a craving for tender, chewy pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous to the rest of us as it was invented in Israel to substitute for difficult to acquire rice but they call it פתיתים, ptitim). The spice is another variation of رأس الحانوت (ras el hanout), a Moroccan spice mix, literally meaning “head of the shop” combining (at times 30+) of the best spices of a shop. The spice crust gives the toothy halibut a fragrant rich depth of flavor without any earthiness or bitterness while the briny olives and zesty preserved lemon give you bright notes to liven up the carby pearl couscous which has such a satisfying tender yet chewy texture. Actually, although I’m a firm believer in reheating your leftovers (I can’t believe I’m writing this), the sharp contrasts in the pearl couscous even make it taste great cold. The fact that it only takes 20 minutes including prep time to cook the pearl couscous and a little under that time to cook your halibut and you may find your dinner menu traveling the spice route on a regular basis 🙂
Preserved Lemon Pearl Couscous
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2/3 c pearl couscous
3/4 c low-salt vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 c cherry tomatoes
6 Kalamata olives, halved
2 quarters marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1/4 preserved lemon rind, minced
1 tbsp shredded parmesan
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
In a small sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat till aromatic but not smoking. Add couscous and toast till golden ~2-3 minutes.
Stir in broth, tomatoes, olives, artichoke, and lemon. Cover and simmer till liquid is absorbed ~10 minutes. The couscous should be soft and slightly chewy, if they’re still hard, add another 1/4 c of water, cover, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes. Stir in parmesan and parsley.
Moroccan Spiced Halibut
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp mace
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 pinch ground cloves
2 4 to 5-oz halibut fillets, pin bones and skin removed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl or airtight jar, combine spices. This will make ~1 tbsp and will keep for 3 months if stored in an airtight container in a dark cabinet. Season halibut with spice mixture ~1/8 tsp per side.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over med-hi heat till aromatic but not smoking. Sauté halibut till opaque halfway up the side ~3-5 minutes depending on how thick your fillet is then flip and cook on the other side till completely opaque. It’s medium done when a sharp knife inserted into the fillet encounters no resistance. Don’t wait till it flakes with a fork cuz it’s overdone at this point and will become dry as halibut doesn’t have much fat unlike salmon. Serve with pearl couscous. Makes 2 servings.