Surprisingly, a lot of people I know, including members of my immediate family, do not like cous cous. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it, I love it! And so I came up with this version, a cous cous bearing fruits of the sea, to try and tempt them into reconsidering their gustatory preferences. I’ll tell you straight away: they stuck to their guns and continued to cling to their aversion but, fortunately, other dinner guests waxed lyrical over this dish and so I know I can make it again and please most of the people (you can’t please all of the people all of the time).
As with nearly everything I prepare, the level of difficulty is very slight. It does require a few passages, however, so I’ll number them to make it easier for you should you want to try it out for yourself.
I. PREPARATIONS FOR THE STOCK
The first thing to do is to make the stock that will season the cous cous, using the very same fish that will be ‘garnishing’ the cous cous. The seafood in question is: dublin bay prawns or langoustines or similar crustaceans, some mussels, and a couple of squid.
Clean the squid and let it rest for a bit in a pool of olive oil. Then cook it on a very hot griddle for about three minutes and set aside in the same bowl that contained the olive oil. Allow the squid to rest, then use a pair of scissors to cut it into rings. Or a knife if you prefer, of course. That precious liquid you see on the bottom will be added to the stock later on.
The next fish is a little more fiddly and needs some grooming and pruning before use. Again, avail yourself of a pair of scissors to cut first one side, and then the other, of your prawns in order to release the flesh within.
First of all, remove the claws (if that’s what you call them?) of the prawns and set aside. Then tear off the heads … And here am I cutting first one side of the body … Then the other side … And here is the flesh that I am after. (In the background you can espy a glass of water, an orange and some lemon – I was making the orange-scented hummus, yesterday’s post, at the same time and it was still daylight. A martini replaced the glass of water by dusk.)
II. COOKING THE PRAWNS THAT WILL SIT ON THE COUS COUS
So we have the claws in the front of the picture, and the flesh at the back. Drizzle olive oil into a saucepan, add slices of garlic and a little bit of chilli. When the garlic has turned golden, add the claws. They don’t take long to cook, only a few minutes. Sprinkle some salt over the claws, then remove from the saucepan and set aside. Cook the prawns in the same saucepan … again, for very little … about three minutes. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
III. MAKING THE STOCK
Now add the carapace of the prawns to the saucepan and cook on a quite a high heat.
Use a potato masher to squeeze all the goodness out of them and into the saucepan. Add 1 bayleaf and plenty of water. Cover and cook for at least half an hour. Strain the liquid into a large bowl and throw the carapaces away. Add the liquid from both the squid and the mussels you have cooked previously. Then have a ball with salt and pepper and taste the stock to make sure it is as seasoned as you want it to be.
IV. COOKING THE COUS COUS
Pour the cous cous directly into your trusty saucepan that you’ve been using all along. No need to drizzle olive oil over it because there is already some olive oil in the stock, remember?
Heat up the stock you’ve made till it’s simmering.
Pour over the cous cous and make sure it covers it all. Give it a stir and …. Cover with a lid. Allow the cous cous to absorb all the liquid (follow the instructions on the cous cous packet for precise timing). Then remove the lid and use a fork to separate the cous cous which might have become a little ‘clumpy’ by now.
V. PUTTING THE DISH TOGETHER
Then, basically for a matter of colour if nothing else, get hold of a red capsicum/pepper and cut it into cubes to scatter all over the dish. Drizzle a final flow of your best olive oil all over the cous cous, and finish it off with some basil or other green leaves.
P.S. For those of you with a beady eye, no, I did not throw the actual mussels away. I made something else with them.