Sicilian Couscous is a dish rich in Mediterranean flavors and aromas. Today we are going to show you a seafood version, especially suitable for the summer. It’s a light, tasty and very colorful recipe.
Couscous, a typical North African dish, has always been part of the Sicilian culinary tradition. This is certainly due to the countless and continuous exchanges and contacts between the two countries.
It’s an excellent alternative to pasta and rice. Easy and quick to make, you can cook couscous in many ways and with different seasonings.
Of course, we used pre-cooked couscous, which is easy to find in the market. We made the seasoning with mussels, clams, shrimp, tomatoes and fresh basil. Add saffron to taste and color the dish. Finally, we add sliced almonds and raisins for crunch and sweetness.
Our Sicilian Couscous have a mix of flavors and colors that will win you over and make you look awesome to your guests!
Couscous is made from grains obtained by grinding durum wheat semolina and steamed.
In many parts of Sicily, couscous is a typical dish with many local variations, as we will see below. Couscous is also popular in parts of Sardinia and Puglia.
Sicilian couscous is a unique and complete dish. You can enjoy it at room temperature or hot. It’s ideal for summer family lunches, but also for dinners and parties with friends because of its convivial nature.
You now just have to try this tasty and colorful recipe! Everyone will love your Sicilian Seafood Couscous, which will bring not only a wonderful taste but also a lot of joy to the table!
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How to Make Sicilian Seafood Couscous
- Prep Time: 20 Min (Excluding the time to purge the clams and clean mussels and prawns)
- Cook Time: 10 Min
- Servings: 4
- 1 kg (2,2 pounds) of mussels, with shells
- 500 g (1,1 pound) of clams, with shells
- 4 king prawns or large shrimps
- 200 g (1 and 1/4 cups) of couscous
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Try this authentic Sicilian extra virgin olive oil by Dolceterra
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 5-6 fresh basil leaves
- 300 g (~10 oz) of cherry or grape tomatoes
- 40 g (~4 tablespoons) of raisins
- 20 g (~4 tablespoons) of almond flakes
- 1 organic lemon
BEFORE YOU START: To make Sicilian couscous with seafood, you must first prepare and clean the mussels, clams and prawns. This is the most difficult part of this simple recipe.
Of course, you can also use FROZEN SEAFOOD, but of course the flavor will be much less intense and tasty than fresh ones.
We will now give you the step-by-step instructions for making the Sicilian Couscous recipe, assuming that the seafood has already been cleaned. For the CLEANING OF MUSSELS, CLAMS AND PRAWNS, see the paragraph below, after the recipe. Let’s get started!
Prepare the Ingredients
Step 1) – Place the cleaned clams and mussels in a very large saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes – no more – covered with a lid (no oil or water).
The purpose of this step is to open the shells so that the liquid inside comes out. Separate the liquid from the shellfish. Place the clams and mussels in a separate bowl.
IMPORTANT: Discard those that have not opened, as they are probably not fresh.
Step 2) – Now you need to strain the liquid that has come out of the shellfish. Then filter the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any remaining sand and broken shells and set aside.
IMPORTANT: You will need this liquid, which is pure “sea flavor”, to rehydrate the couscous, so don’t throw it away as it is essential to the recipe!
TIP: If you are using frozen seafood and do not have its water, you can replace it with seafood stock.
Step 3) – Pour the liquid from the mussels and clams into a cup and add the saffron.
Stir to dissolve the saffron. The liquid will turn a nice yellow color. Set aside.
PLEASE NOTE: For 200 grams (1 and 1/4 cups) of couscous, you need 200 ml (3/4 cup) of liquid. If you do not have enough, add a little water. In general, the liquid from shellfish is very salty. It’s not necessary to add salt.
Step 4) – Now remove the mussels and clams from their shells and set them aside.
Step 5) – Place the raisins in a glass of warm water to soften them. Wash the basil and cherry tomatoes. On a cutting board, cut them into not too small pieces.
Step 6) – Place the couscous in a large, high-sided bowl. Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Then pour in the saffron seafood cooking liquid until the couscous is completely covered.
Step 7) – Cover with plastic wrap and wait about 5 minutes. The couscous will rehydrate and increase in volume significantly.
Step 8) – Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat one tablespoon of oil with the two peeled but whole garlic cloves. Add the cleaned mussels, clams and shrimp.
Cook for two to three minutes at most. Cook the shrimp for one minute on each side. Turn off the heat and remove the garlic.
Assemble all the Preparations and Make Sicilian Couscous
Step 9) – Use a fork to break up the couscous. Do this very well so that no lumps of couscous remain.
Then add the mussels and clams and stir.
Step 10) – Add the tomatoes, basil, well squeezed raisins and almond slivers.
Step 11) – Season with the grated zest of half an organic lemon.
Mix everything very well and finally decorate with the prawns, a tablespoon of EVO oil and more basil leaves. Your Sicilian Couscous with Seafood is ready! Serve warm or at room temperature.
How to Clean the Seafood to Make Sicilian Couscous
You can also use frozen seafood. But if, like us, you prefer to use fresh seafood, here is how to clean and prepare mussels, clams and prawns.
CLAMS: place the clams in a bowl and fill it with cool tap water. Add a handful of coarse salt and let them soak for about 2 hours. During this time they will spit out the sand from inside their shells. Then remove the clams from the water and scrub them to clean any particles or grit from the outside surface.
MUSSELS: Clean the mussels by scraping off any impurities with the blade of a small knife. Tear off the byssus, that is the bearded part that comes out of the shell. Then, with the help of a stainless steel sponge, clean well their shells.
Remove algae, sand residue, and incrustations. Remove any broken or hatched clams. Then quickly rinse the clams under running water to remove any impurities. Do not leave them in the water for long time.
PRAWNS: To clean prawns, first remove the heads. Then remove the shells. Finally remove the black intestinal thread by gently pulling it out.
How to Store Sicilian Couscous
We recommend eating Sicilian couscous as soon as it is ready.
If it leftovers, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one day in an airtight food container or covered with aluminum foil.
The Most Famous Variations of Couscous Recipe in Italy
Couscous alla Trapanese
The Trapani area became the birthplace of Sicilian couscous, better known as “Couscous alla Trapanese”.
They call it “Il cùscus” in the local dialect.
It is made with a flavorful fish broth, unlike Moroccan couscous, which is based on meat and vegetables.
In the most traditional preparations, couscous alla Trapanese is cooked in an earthenware pot decorated with flowers, the “cuscusiera”, or “pignatta di cùscu-su” in the Trapanese dialect.
It contains a fish broth mixed with various vegetables.
Then they add raisins, chick peas, almonds and the inevitable spices, such as paprika or saffron, according to taste.
These are the main ingredients. But each family jealously guards its own recipe.
Small pearls of durum wheat semolina cooked with very fresh fish. All the colors and scents of the sea mix in this Italian couscous recipe with its inimitable taste and aroma.
Every year in September, to celebrate the importance of couscous in the cuisine of the province of Trapani, a cous cous festival is held in San Vito Lo Capo, which brings together people from all over the world.
Couscous alla Lampedusana
Couscous is a common dish not only in Trapani, but also on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
In this beautiful island, the African influences are even greater due to the proximity.
The traditional Lampedusan couscous is made with grouper, which is abundant on the island, and vegetables.
The recipe is quite complex and involves several steps.
They cut peppers, eggplants and zucchini into large pieces and then sauté them in plenty of hot extra virgin olive oil.
Then they cook the grouper steaks seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, Lampedusa capers, olives, cherry tomatoes, a little chili pepper and oregano.
Finally, in an earthenware pot, they prepare a broth with the grouper head, potatoes and carrots.
When it’s cooked, they take out the potatoes and carrots and sieve the rest, keeping the cooking broth.
Next, they cook the couscous in the couscous pot (a special double pot), then put it in the “mafaradda” (a special glazed earthenware bowl) and sprinkle it with some of the previously prepared hot broth.
They serve the couscous with potatoes and carrots. The fried grouper steaks and vegetables. The fish broth to soften the semolina and the chili oil if you like it spicy.
Everyone is free to choose from the plates and compose their own dish according to their own tastes.
Couscous alla Carlofortina
The ancestors of the inhabitants of Carloforte came from Liguria to Tabarca, on the Tunisian coast, to fish for coral.
Here they colonized a small village in 1540.
From there they settled on the Sardinian island of Carloforte, importing a number of customs and traditions and retaining some influences from Eastern cuisine.
Among these was the couscous, although the traditional Sardinian version does not include the use of meat like the African version.
The “cascà” or “cous cous tabarchino” of Carloforte is therefore a very tasty and spicy vegetarian dish.
The Sardinian couscous has coarser grains than the Sicilian one.
The main ingredients of Carloforte couscous are: chickpeas, broad beans, carrots, onions and savoy cabbage.
Depending on the season, you can also find eggplant, artichokes or cauliflower.
What makes this dish special are the countless flavors and spices it contains. The most common are garlic, wild fennel, cloves, marjoram and cinnamon.
All these flavors, expertly blended, give the dish its distinctive and unmistakable taste.
Couscous: a Food with a Very Ancient History
Couscous is made from durum wheat semolina processed with water. Its origin is linked to the history of traditions in the Middle East and North Africa.
They grind the durum wheat semolina, then sift it and work it by hand until they get tiny grains. They then steam these tiny grains in a special glazed earthenware pot.
Since ancient times, the pot used to prepare couscous has been the “tajine”. This is a Moroccan pot made up of two parts: a bowl on the bottom, where the food is placed, and a conical lid.
The history of couscous is linked to very ancient rituals. In its countries of origin, couscous has been served only at dinner since ancient times.
Diners would eat it around a single plate using only their hands.
This delicious food also inspired a legend dating back to 950 BC.
It’s said that King Solomon ate large quantities of couscous to alleviate his lovesickness caused by the Queen of Sheba.
From this legend, couscous has become a true family sharing ritual, filled with many meanings.
The Origins of Couscous in Italy
Couscous arrived in Europe thanks to the routes of the spice and cloth merchants who sailed the Mediterranean in the early 18th century.
These voyages brought couscous to Italy.
It spread in the late 1700s when workers from the Trapani areas between San Vito del Capo and Mazara del Vallo began to travel to the Tunisian coast for trade.