Saffron-Scented Vegetable Cous­cous with North African Spiced Halibut

© 2012

Do you like big, bold flavors? Then this dish is for you.

I have never been a big fan of halibut. It’s not that I don’t like halibut but there are so many other sea delicacies out there that I really prefer. Nonetheless, it is renown for its delicate sweet flavor, snow-white color and firm flaky meat. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein, minerals and Omega 3 fatty acids, low in sodium, fat and calories and contains a minimum of bones. It is also one of the most versatile seafoods you can find. You can grill it, sauté it, bake it, sear it, and even use it in sushi (hirame in sushi-speak). For all of these reasons halibut is one of the most popular seafood dishes around the world. Baby Lady adores halibut. My Dad loves halibut, as does most everyone I know.

Because Dad watches his fat intake, as well as cholesterol and other things, we try to fix him healthy meals when we go visit. He loves to eat but hates to cook. So, at 85 and a widower, he goes out to eat a lot, eats sandwiches and frozen meals. Cooking to Dad is setting the timer and pushing the start button on the microwave. He loves it when Baby Lady and I go down because we cook for him. We generally pack up 1/3 of the kitchen, drive 1-1/2 hours to see him and cook for him. This meal was one of those visits to see Dad. We knew we were going down for the weekend to visit so Baby Lady and I were trying to think of something new and exciting that he might like. He loves Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Red Snapper Veracruz) but we had fixed that for him already on a couple of occasions, not to mention a variety of tuna, swordfish and salmon recipes. We needed something new, flavorful and snappy. As we were reading and discussing what to cook for him I stumbled across this recipe on my iPad from a blogger on Food52 called Mostly FoodStuffs. It sounded delicious, Dad loves halibut so we decided to give it a try.  It was wonderful, so wonderful that we have made it for ourselves since. Baby Lady even thinks I am beginning to love halibut like everyone else. Give this recipe a try.


For the Halibut:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 lb halibut

For the Couscous:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into bite-sized wedges
  • 1/2 small cauliflower, cored and broken into bite-sized florets
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup green olives, quartered
  • 1 handful parsley, chopped
  • 1 handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the saffron to 2-1/2 cups of warm water and set aside to allow the saffron to soften and bloom.

For the Halibut: In a large bowl mix together the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and spices. Taste, adding more salt if desired. Add the halibut, spooning the marinade over the top. Marinate at room temperature for roughly 30 minutes. Acidic marinades can breakdown the flesh of the fish thereby destroying the firm/flakey texture of the fish producing instead a soggy/mushy fish.

After 30 minutes transfer the halibut into a baking dish. Scrape out any remaining. spice paste and spread thickly on top of the fillets. Place in the oven and bake until the fish is done, roughly 18 – 20 minutes. Halibut is ready to eat when the meat is opaque to the middle. Test the halibut by pressing on the flesh with your finger like you do with a steak. When done, it will just push back when gently pressed on the top (presentation) side. You want the fish to be firm yet soft to the touch to give you a fluffy feel, as opposed to the straight push back you would get with a 1 inch steak medium rare. If you cook halibut to the point that it flakes easily, it’s overcooked.

For the Couscous: Heat a large pot over a high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When it is glossy and sufficiently heated add the fennel and cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and toss. Cook, stirring infrequently, so that the vegetables begin to caramelize and develop light brown spots. Once the veggies begin to caramelize, add a few tablespoons of cold water and cover to steam. Stir occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, roughly 3 minutes. When done remove the veggies to a large bowl and set aside.

Add to the pot the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the couscous and stir coating the couscous with the oil. Continue cooking toasting the couscous until the couscous just begins to color and gives off a nutty aroma. This will happen pretty quick, roughly 2 -3 minutes depending upon your pot and heat, and you don’t want to burn the couscous. When toasted, add saffron water and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook the couscous until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender, roughly 8 – 10 minutes.

In the interim, add the olives, parsley, and cilantro to the bowl with the cooked cauliflower and fennel. When the couscous is done, mix with the herbs and vegetables, tossing well to incorporate the ingredients.

To Serve: Place a mound of the vegetable couscous in the center of the plate. Top the couscous with the halibut. Serve with lemon wedges and enjoy.

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