Couscous Alla Trapanese Recipe | Authentic Sicilian Couscous
Updated: Jul 21
At one time or another, Sicily was conquered by just about every major Mediterranean power since the dawn of the bronze age. The result? A uniquely exotic cuisine with influences from many diverse regions. Perhaps no dish best illustrates this melting pot quite like couscous: a decidedly non-Italian dish which nevertheless gained a major cultural foothold in Sicily.
The recipe requires raw couscous, as opposed to the pre-cooked variety most commonly sold in the west (if the label says it cooks in 10 minutes, it won't work). Therefore, we have included instructions on how to make your own from scratch. It's certainly not a quick process, but the results can be extraordinary!
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make this recipe here:
Time to cook: 6 hours
We'll begin with how to hand-roll couscous. The process is really quite simple!
To make your own couscous, you will need:
- 300g semolina flour
- 1 cup water
- Olive oil
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl—the bigger the better. Dissolve 1 tsp salt in a cup of water. Using a spoon, or even just your fingers, sprinkle a few drops of water over the flour.
Begin rubbing the flour in a circular motion, sweeping and wiping it around the bowl surface. As the water incorporates into the flour, it will eventually pill and ball up into couscous! Once the water you have added seems evenly incorporated into the flour, add a few drops more. It's very easy to add too much water so be patient and add just a little bit at a time. Keep going until you have a bowl of tiny couscous balls.
When you have finished, drizzle a little olive oil over the couscous, salt it to taste, and mix thoroughly. Spread the couscous over a clean towel while you prepare the rest of the dish.
To make Couscous alla Trapanese, you will need:
- Couscous (see above)
- 1 white onion
- 4 tbsp whole black pepper kernels
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 sea bass fillet
- 1 whole red snapper, gutted, scaled and cleaned
- 1/2 lb (225g) calamari, cleaned
- 10-12 fresh mussels
- 10-12 fresh clams
- 8 fresh shrimp
- 1 stalk celery, halved
- 1 large carrot, halved
- 1 tomato, halved
- 6-8 sprigs fresh parsley
- Olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 1/2 cup (350ml) white wine
- 1/4 cup (30g) almonds
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
Dice 1/4 white onion and mix into the couscous.
Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. Add the pepper kernels, 3 bay leaves, and the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then add the steamer top. Spread the couscous evenly in the steamer. Add 2 bay leaves and poke 3-4 holes into the couscous to allow steam through.
Cover the steamer with a clean cloth followed by the lid (to help keep the steam contained), being sure not the let the cloth edges fall into open flame! The couscous will need to steam for 2 hours. In the meantime, prepare the seafood soup.
Fillet the red snapper, saving the head and spine. Peel the shrimp and save the skins. In a medium pot, place the celery, carrot, tomato, 1/2 an onion, 3-4 sprigs of parsley, the head and spine of the red snapper, and the shrimp skins. Fill the pot with enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. It should cook for about 30 minutes, during which time the mussels and clams can be cooked.
To do so, add 2 tbsp olive oil and one peeled clove of garlic into a medium saucepan. Bring the oil up to medium temp, then add the mussels and 1/2 cup white wine. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook until the mussels open their shells, about 5 minutes. Be aware that any mussels which do not open should be discarded. Set the mussels aside. Filter the pan juices through a fine cheesecloth and add into the broth.
Repeat this process with the clams. We recommend cooking them separately as they have a different cook time than mussels.
In a blender, combine the almonds with one clove of peeled garlic, 1/4 white onion, 3-4 sprigs of parsley, and 3 tbsp olive oil. Blend into a purée.
Add the purée, 3 tbsp of olive oil, and 1/2 cup white wine into a medium pot. Bring to a simmer. Add the tomato paste and stir in.
Filtering it through a mesh strainer, add the fish broth into the purée pot. Cut the sea bass and snapper fillets into thirds and add these as well, along with the calamari and a generous sprinkle of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Salt to taste, turn off the heat and keep covered.
When the couscous has finished steaming, remove the bay leaves and pour it into a large bowl. Filtering through a mesh strainer, add just enough broth from the soup to saturate and dampen the couscous. Mix well, then cover with a clean towel and a blanket to preserve the heat. Let it sit for 3 hours.
When nearing serving time, warm the soup again on the stovetop and cook the shrimp. Bring 2 tbsp of olive oil up to medium temperature in a skillet. Add the shrimp and sautée until bright red on both sides. Set aside.
To serve Trapani-style: serve the couscous, the fish from the soup (along with the shellfish and shrimp), and the broth separately. The three elements can then be eaten and mixed according to the diner's preference. To serve Enna-style, serve the couscous drizzled in broth and topped with the seafood.