Harissa mackerel with orange-scented couscous

Harissa mackerel with orange-scented couscous

Mowie Kay

What is it about a plump, oily fish that lends itself so perfectly to heat and spice? The results are always immensely satisfying on the palate. If you like, rather than serve the remaining harissa on the side, you can stir it through some yogurt, just to lessen the intensity. You can make this with sardines in place of the mackerel; just use 16 fillets instead of 8.


Quantity Ingredient
8 large mackerel fillets
a little olive oil

For the harissa

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 fat green chillies, preferably jalapeno
1 tablespoon preserved lemon peel, finely chopped, see recipe note
1/2 lemon, Finely grated zest and juice
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 slice fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
25g fresh parsley
10g fresh coriander leaves
10g fresh lemon verbena or lemon balm, (or mint, at a pinch)
2 tablespoons olive oil
cayenne, to taste (optional)
sea salt
black pepper

For the couscous

Quantity Ingredient
a strip blanched, dried orange zest, see recipe note
150g wholegrain couscous
50g dates, finely chopped
1 orange, juiced
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
15g butter
50g pistachio nibs, (skinned and slivered kernels)
a small bunch parsley, finely chopped


  1. To make the harissa, lightly toast the cumin, coriander and caraway seeds and peppercorns in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then cool and grind to a powder. Add the chillies to the same pan and cook until the skin starts to blister on all sides. Remove, then deseed when cool enough to handle, and roughly chop.
  2. Put the spices, chilli and all the remaining ingredients except the seasoning into a food processor and pulse, scraping down regularly, until you have a coarse paste. Season with salt and pepper then taste – you may want to add more heat; if so add in some cayenne.
  3. Use half the harissa to marinate the mackerel: score the mackerel 3–4 times across the skin (this helps it keep its shape when cooked), then put into a bowl and rub the harissa over it. Leave for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the grill to its highest setting. Put the mackerel fillets on a baking tray, skin side up. Drizzle over a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then grill for 5 minutes until the skin is crisp and the flesh is just cooked through.
  5. To make the couscous, finely chop or blitz the dried orange zest. Put it in a bowl with the couscous and dates and a good pinch of salt. Measure the orange juice and top it up with hot, but not boiling, water to 200ml plus 1 tablespoon. Add the orange blossom water, then pour over the couscous and dates. Add the butter and leave to stand until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous fluffs up well with a fork. Stir through the pistachios and parsley.
  6. Serve the mackerel fillets with the remaining harissa and the couscous on the side.

Cheat's Preserved Lemon (or Limes, or Oranges)

  • Pare the zest from the lemons in large slices, preferably with a swivel peeler, then trim off any excess white pith. Put in a small saucepan, squeeze the pared lemons and add the juice to the pan along with the sea salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for around 10 minutes or until the zest is tender. Allow to cool and keep in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator until needed. It will keep for months, but can be used immediately.

How to Dry

  • If you are in a hurry, simply put your peel/zest or slices on a wire rack and toast in the oven (on its lowest setting, if above 100°C, with the door slightly ajar) for anything between 30 minutes and 3 hours, depending on what you are drying, until they are parchment-dry. The slices will obviously take longer than the peel, as they contain much more water, but try to avoid letting them brown too much as you don’t want them to taste burnt – the original colour should be preserved as much as possible.
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