This dish features cauliflower two ways: in a smooth, creamy mash and as an innovative “couscous” accented with preserved lemons, mint and pistachios.
Mashed cauliflower along with raw cauliflower “couscous” made with preserved lemons, mint, and pistachio provide a perfect accompaniment to slightly sweet sea bream. A health-conscious dish packed to the brim with flavor.–Maria Elia
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LC Caped Carb Crusader Note
To some of us, cauliflower has always been cool. As in, not just tolerable, but crazy versatile to the nth degree, witnessed by this surprisingly stunning supper in which it figures as a caped carb crusader in both a smooth, creamy mash and a crunchy, easy salad. Forget paleo power. This is sheer cauliflower power. (Although if paleo power is what you seek, nix the mash, as it contains dairy, which is verboten for paleo proponents.)
Pan-Fried Fish with Cauliflower
For the raw cauliflower “couscous”
- 1/2 cup pistachios shelled
- 1/2 medium head cauliflower cut into florets
- Juice of 1 medium lemon plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup mint leaves finely chopped, or to taste
- 1 preserved lemon cut into quarters, flesh removed, washed, and finely chopped
- Sea salt to taste
For the cauliflower purée
- 1/2 medium head cauliflower cut into small florets
- 1 cup whole or 2% milk
- Pinch sea salt plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the fish
- 4 fillets sweet, mild white fish (such as sea bream, wild striped sea bass, flounder)
- Sea salt
- Glug olive oil for frying
- Extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
Make the couscous
- Place the pistachios in a food processor and pulse to a bread crumb-like texture. Pour them into a large bowl. Place half the cauliflower florets in the food processor and pulse until they’re a couscous-like texture. Add to the pistachios and repeat with the remaining florets.
- Add the lemon juice, olive oil, mint, and preserved lemon to the cauliflower mixture and stir to combine. Season with the salt and add more olive oil and lemon juice to taste, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
Make the cauliflower purée
- In a small saucepan, bring the cauliflower, milk, and salt to a boil. Simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the cauliflower, reserving the milk. Place the cauliflower in a blender, add the butter and lemon juice, and process until smooth, adding a little reserved milk if necessary to attain a purée. Season with salt and add more butter to taste, if desired. Cover to keep warm while you cook the fish.
Fry the fish
- Pat the fish dry and season on both sides with salt. Heat the glug of olive oil—just enough to coat the surface—in 1 or 2 large skillets over medium heat. Place the fish in the skillet, skin side down (or, if the fish has no skin, the side that had the skin), until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes. Flip the fish and continue to cook until the fish is opaque throughout, another 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
- To assemble, place a dollop cauliflower purée on each plate, top with cauliflower couscous, and place a fish fillet, skin side up, alongside. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil as a garnish.
Couscous VariationTry adding some soaked golden raisins or chopped Medjool dates and a pinch cumin to the couscous.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
So I’m from southwest Brooklyn, where it’s customary to pepper expletives as adjectives when describing something that you really, really, really like—something that just defies earthly laws dictating amazing and genius. So just imagine, if you will, me dropping the f-bomb like there’s no tomorrow throughout this review, because this cauliflower couscous is a game changer. Ladies and gentleman, cauliflower couscous is the new black and this is the ground floor of bleeping rock star cooking. (Wipes brow.) This recipe has a Mediterranean vibe with lemon, mint, and mild fish. It’s the kind of recipe you read once, execute, and never again have to refer to the printed page because it’s so intuitive. A few observations while I was cooking: My head of cauliflower was about 2 1/2 pounds. I used the juice of two lemons but I should have used one, here’s why: you want the “couscous” on the drier side, especially when you first dress it. I found the texture more appealing when the bitty particles didn’t clump together but remained kind of separate—umm, kind of like actual couscous. As the cauliflower rests, it releases a little water, so dressing it lightly accounts for that. The purée is delicious and delicate and not at all heavy, but if you’d rather used the florets to make more couscous, I’m not going to stop you. I chose a local striped bass to substitute for the sea bream. Together everything was simple and bleeping delicious.
My family would make an entire meal of the cauliflower purée to serve in place of mashed potatoes. One could enjoy finely chopped pistachios on top of the purée. We didn’t really care for the cool cauliflower couscous, so I pan-fried a thin layer of it to make it warm and we enjoyed it much more this way.