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Crisp Striped Bass with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas, and Couscous

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Serves 4

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 101

Preserved lemon brings a bright, salty citrus note to this Moroccan-influenced dish.

  • 4 skin-on striped bass fillets (5 oz. each), scaled
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more for drizzling
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 cups seeded, diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 19-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
  • 2 Tbs. chopped Moroccan preserved lemon (or 1 tsp. grated lemon zest)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 1 cup couscous, cooked according to package directions Harissa or other chile sauce to taste

Heat the oven to 200°F. Pat the fish fillets dry and season all over with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Put the flour in a wide, shallow dish and lightly dredge the fish in the flour, shaking off any excess.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Arrange the fish skin side down in the pan so the fillets fit without touching. Cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. With a spatula, peek under a fillet to see if the skin is golden-brown and crisp. If not, cook 1 minute more. Flip the fillets and cook until lightly golden-brown and just cooked through, an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the cumin seeds to the skillet, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 3 Tbs. water and cook until they become saucy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Add the preserved lemon (or lemon zest) and chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Scrape a fork through the couscous to fluff it, and then divide it among 4 dinner plates. Place the fish skin side up on the couscous. Spoon on the chickpea mixture and garnish with the harissa and a scattering of cilantro leaves. If desired, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the fish at the table.

Serving Suggestions

This dish is a complete meal in itself, but you could start it off with a simple salad.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 550; Fat (g): fat g 16; Fat Calories (kcal): 150; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 2.5; Protein (g): protein g 39; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 9; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 61; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3.5; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 600; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 115; Fiber (g): fiber g 9;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I substituted fresh black cod for striped bass, as I couldn't find it fresh. I added a little more salt and lemon juice to the chickpea mixture and used halved grape tomatoes. It turned out to be AMAZING. Even my toddler loved it!

This is a great way to cook striped bass, the skin is really crispy and light, but I can't understand why anyone in their right mind would cook the fish and then leave it to sit in the oven while they cooked the couscous. That's just insane. The couscous will stay warm for 5 minutes on its own, while the fish's texture will suffer from being left in an oven for so long. This is a perfect example of how Fine Cooking has deteriorated. A few years ago I don't think you'd see such a poorly thought out procedure; in fact, there would be genuinely good advice about the order of the steps, and hints that would actually improve the dish. I'm sad to see Fine Cooking move away from its emphasis on good technique and solid instruction. These days I can't differentiate between this and every other magazine on the shelf.

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