Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous

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Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous


The story behind Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous

When my husband worked for the San Francisco Visitor’s Bureau, he was told by all the food magazine reps that placing an ad in a food magazine was placing an ad somewhere that would just keep giving; giving him more bang for his buck. People don’t generally toss culinary magazines in the recycle bin like they might a People or Us.

And it’s true.  I have many old culinary publications that I still go through on a regular basis, looking at what the food trends were and reliving life through advertising.

Trust me, ads from the 1990’s are very different than the ones we see in current publications.  It makes me stop and think about how quickly the times have changed. And how differently we get our information. With the internet, it’s nowGoogle search, not index search.

But eventually, I would go through those magazines and cut out recipes, throwing the rest of the paper into the recycle bin.  And those pieces of paper end up in files, endless files of cut-out recipes that I meant to try, or did try and liked and thought I might do again.  Rifling through these scraps of paper, I came across this recipe for Baked Fish (Charmoula) that was served with couscous, and I thought that it would be fun to make it again in my tagine.  I have all these beautiful frozen halibut that I bought at Pure Fish Fresh Seafood in Seattle, so making a few modifications to the original recipe (which I have no idea which publication it came from, or when it was first published) I came up with this recipe for Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous.

It’s quite simple to prepare and quite delicious to eat.


What is Charmoula?

Charmoula is a blend of oils, herbs, spices, and lemon, including “pickled” or “preserved” lemon.  I didn’t really feel the need for added oil, as the dish is baked, so looking to keep it light. I omitted all oil from the charmoula.   I think the preserved lemon is a wonderful addition to the dish, I make my own, it’s so simple, but you can find preserved lemon at many supermarkets, or purchase online.

If you don’t have it, you probably won’t be disappointed; but you might discover a new taste sensation if you find and add it.



Ras-el-hanout is a complex mix of spices that is key to this dish.  You can find it at many fine supermarkets carrying Middle Eastern and North African spices.  If you can’t find it, you can make an abbreviated version using 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon each ground coriander and cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne. It won’t be the same, but, as they say, close enough for government work.



Cooking in a tagine

I love to cook in the tagine as the coned lid keeps the condensation dripping back into the main bowl, leaving everything nice and moist without having to add a lot of additional liquid. This keeps the flavors concentrated.  If you don’t have a tagine, you could use a tightly covered pot, or cover a baking dish tightly with foil.  If you do this, you might want to add a little additional liquid, maybe a half a cup of either fish stock or clam juice.


What kind of fish to use

I made this with halibut, but you could also use bass, sturgeon or mahi-mahi.  Any firm thick fleshed white fish will work.  And as always I will advocate to line caught, or at least wild, not farmed fish.


Cooking up the Couscous

For the couscous, I used a tricolor product they sell at Cost Plus World Market because I love the way it presents on the plate.  It calls for 3/4 cup of liquid to 1 cup of couscous, but I’ve made many different brands of couscous that are 1 to 1 or 1 1/2 to 1, so be sure to check your package directions and let it tell you how to properly cook your couscous.  I also added peas, but they’re optional so if you don’t want to, don’t add them.


Don’t let the ingredient list put you off!

I have a lot of people tell me that when they look at a recipe if it has more than 5 ingredients, they are not going to make it because it’s “too difficult”. So please, don’t let the list of ingredients put you off, it’s really only spices and such.  The instructions are really quite easy…

Ok…now that this recipe is here …I’m going to recycle another “little piece of paper”.

Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous

Baked Charmoula Halibut with Couscous


  • For the Fish

    1/2 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Juice of 1 juicy lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Rind of 1/4 of a preserved lemon (remove any lemon and only use the rind)
  • 1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout
  • 1 pound halibut or other thick white fish
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes with their juice, lightly chopped
  • Fish or clam stock, as needed
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • For the Couscous

    1 cup diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, oil, or butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron or turmeric
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock, or as directed for your couscous
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, optional


Step 1

For the Baked Fish

Combine the onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, preserved lemon rind and raw-el-hanout in a food processor. Process to a smooth paste.

Arrange the fish in a single layer in an oven proof pan or tagine. Pour the onion mixture over the top; cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.

Step 2

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Pour the tomatoes around the fish and add clam juice or fish stock if not using a tagine so the fish has liquid up to about half way. Cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, the fish should be just cooked through, do not overcook. The tip of a knife, when inserted in the thickest part, should not have any resistance as it goes through the fish. If the sauce seems too thin; transfer it to a small saucepan and simmer until reduced slightly.

Step 3

For the Couscous

While the fish is cooking, prepare the couscous. Heat the Ghee, oil or butter in a small through. Sauté the onions until they begin to brown around the edges, stir in the cumin, saffron (or turmeric), salt and pepper. Sauté for 2 - 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add the broth and bring to a simmer; add the couscous and peas, if using. Stir, then cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork.

Step 4

To Serve

Place the couscous on a warmed plate, top slightly with the fish and then spoon sauce over the top. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

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Nutritional Info

This information is per serving.
  • Calories
  • Fat
    7g (3g Sat, 2g Mono, 1g Poly)
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Nutritional information is supplied as a guideline and may not be 100% accurate.

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