Sicilian Cous Cous: from Africa to Trapani

The Sicilian cous cous is a mix of fresh fish and aromas that evoke the scents of Sicily.

It is summer and everybody is already suffering from hot weather, so if you are looking for a cold, fast but tasty dish to surprise your soul mate and friends or a delicious alternative for the famous Italian Apericena, you should try “cous cous alla Siciliana” also known as “cous cous alla trapanese”.

The Sicilian cous cous has become one of the typical dishes of the region, especially in the area of Trapani and San Vito Lo Capo, as an authentic symbol of the Sicilian cuisine, because it includes traditional products. Cous cous is a typical Nord Africa dish, but this latter is prepared with meat, while the Sicilian cous cous is made with fish.

The procedure to prepare couscous is long and laborious, using the “incocciatura” technique: the durum wheat semolina is worked by hands together with water to create small agglomerates. For convenience, precooked couscous is used very often, especially outside Sicily.

A little bit of history: from Africa to Sicily

It is not easy to establish the exact date of the origin of cous cous, but its history seems to have its roots during the time of King Solomon, in 950 BC.  From Africa, it arrived in Sicily during the Arab domination in 827 B.C. Today it is one of the most famous dishes of the Sicilian tradition.

Ideas and variations

It is usually topped with fresh seafood and served with rich fish stock, veggies and flavoured with spices ranging from cinnamon, saffron to bay leaves and almonds or pistachios. Spices make the taste a bit tangy but combined with the texture of handmade cuscussù (as Sicilian are used to calling it), the dish is rich and extremely savoury.


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The traditional recipe:

  • 300g pre-cooked cous cous
  • 400 g snapper
  • 250 g gallinella
  • 300g tomato pulp
  • 350 g Sea bream
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 50g chopped almonds
  • Saffron
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chili pepper
  • salt and pepper

Let’s start washing the fish, removing the entrails and cutting off the head and tail. Then, put the head and tail in a large pan, add a peeled onion, a stalk of celery and a bay leaf. Add water, cook for about an hour and filter the broth by passing it through a colander.

Cut the fillets of fish into pieces and set aside. Chop the second onion with the garlic cloves and parsley. Put everything in a pan and fry with extra virgin olive oil. Then, add the tomato pulp and the bay leaves.

Let’s continue adding the pieces of fish and plenty of fish broth. Add the saffron, paprika and chopped almonds. Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Remove the pieces of fish from the sauce and set them aside.

In a saucepan pour 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and add the couscous, cook it for a few minutes, stirring constantly and add 300 grams of boiling fish broth. Let it rest for about ten minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and then transfer the couscous to a large bowl. When it has cooled season it with the sauce. Finally serve with a few pieces of fish.