Recipe courtesy Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (Ten Speed Press, 2011).
“Couscous is a classic fish pairing in the Mediterranean,” says cookbook author Maria Speck. “The fish is so tender that you need an equally tender whole grain to help mop up the sauce. A strong, chewy whole grain like wheat berries would overwhelm the dish.”
- For the stew:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups chopped yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1½ pounds), cored, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
- ¼ cup ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1½ pounds skinned halibut or other white-fleshed fish, patted dry and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- For the couscous:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1¼ cups whole wheat couscous
- To finish:
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup finely chopped fennel fronds
- Salt, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf and fennel. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the ouzo and cook until syrupy and almost no liquid remains, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 15–17 minutes.
While the stew simmers, place the fish in a large glass bowl. Sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then drizzle with the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make the couscous. Pour 1½ cups of water, olive oil and salt into a heavy medium saucepan and bring to boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in couscous, cover and let sit until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
To finish, add the fish to the stew, stir gently and return to a simmer. Cook, leaving the lid slightly askew, until the fish is fork-tender and opaque throughout, about 3–4 minutes. Add the sugar and pepper. Taste and adjust for sugar, salt and pepper. Remove from heat, drizzle the stew with the olive oil and let sit with the lid slightly askew for 3 minutes.
Fluff the couscous with a fork and divide among deep plates. Scoop the fish stew over the couscous and garnish each serving with fennel fronds. Serves 6.
With its strong anise element from the fennel and ouzo, this stew needs a wine that will complement it without being overpowering. Stephen Malarick, a Boston-area wine professional, recommends a Vermentino like Cantina di Santadi’s 2011 Villa Solais, which features citrus and herbal notes to offset the anise. The wine’s crisp acidity stands up to the tomatoes.