There are nights when I get home from a 12-hour shift and I’m as grubby as a toddler eating a grape popsicle while playing in a sandbox. Scrubs askew, messy bun no longer cute and now just looking like a rat’s nest, my face permanently set into an irritated/exhausted wrinkly frown, with the whiff of a C-Diff patient room still lingering in my nostrils.
The only cure is a scalding shower, wine and a dozen crab rangoons from Oriental Delight along with the usual order. No way in hellszebub am I eating anything remotely healthy or stepping near the stove. Believe you me. Thankfully, those nights don’t happen often.
Most nights I come home tired but happy, ready to put on reruns of The Office and get to cooking a quick and healthyish — but more importantly — delicious and satisfying dinner. This pan-seared salmon checks off every box.
The superstar is harissa, a fragrant and fiery roasted pepper paste that is loaded with color and spice. You can make it at home and sometimes I do, but Trader Joe’s sells a very good version and is perfect in a pinch. Salmon and harissa get along so well, the richness of the fish can take on deep flavors easily — and with a little help of lemon and fresh thyme it’s all the feels: Bright. Savory. Fresh.
Jeweled couscous is just a fancy way of saying we threw pomegranates on top. But the acidic fruity crunch is absolutely addicting and I promise you’ll be adding it to all your future grain bowls.
If the meal needs more rounding out for a party of four, quick garlicky saute’d kale or other leafy greens would be a welcomed addition. Bread is never a bad idea. Especially if there’s extra harissa and olive oil to dip it in. And for wine, I know it’s probably not correct but I always want rosé with salmon because it’s pink on pink and I just can’t help myself.
Harissa Salmon with Jeweled Couscous
For the Salmon
- 1 LB Salmon skin on(!)
- 1/3 cup Harissa
- 4 Garlic cloves diced
- 1 Lemon halved
- handful Thyme no need to take leaves off
- Salt & Pepper
For the Couscous
- 1 cup Couscous
- 1/2 Pomegranate seeds knocked out
- 4 Scallions diced
- 1/4 cup Almonds or Pepitas sliced/crushed
- Za'atar, Chile flakes, Thyme for topping
Rinse and pat dry the salmon, slice into two even portions. Salt and pepper the fish well.
Combine the harissa and garlic in a small bowl. If the paste is not very spreadable, add a glug of olive oil until it's a good consistency. Rub it all over the flesh side of the salmon.
If you are prepping this early huzzah for you -- stick that puppy in the fridge and let it marinate a few hours. At the least you should do 40 minutes, preferably 60. BUT if you are hangry and giving me stank eye right now I'll settle for 20.
(While the fish is getting flavor acquainted, prep toppings for the couscous and put them all in a bowl ready to mix in.)
Once the salmon has marinated for the chosen amount of time, take it out and remove excess marinade. Lay it with the skin side on paper towels to remove moisture so it can get super crispy.
Get two burners going. A small saucepan with 1 cup of salted water or stock set to boil for the couscous. And a large skillet on medium-high heat with your choice of cooking oil (high smoke point). Have your thyme sprigs and butter close by.
Once the oil is very hot, place your salmon skin side down into the pan and let it sizzle. Turn the heat down just a tad for even cooking. To stop that pesky curling that can happen, use a spatula and apply some gentle pressure for the first minute. This usually helps.
Quickly add a nub of butter and thyme sprigs to the pan. Using a spoon, baste the salmon allllll over with the melting butter and herbs, really get that aroma going. Leave it skin side down until it easily releases from the pan, 5-7 minutes.
During this time (if you haven't already) add your couscous to the boiling water. Stir, remove from heat and cover. It will be done in 5 minutes.
Carefully flip the fish over to finish it off, 1-2 minutes.
Check the salmon for desired doneness, I prefer mine quite rare in the center so this is the timing I've given. If you want it cooked further simply leave it in the pan a few minutes more. Take off heat and give it all a squeeze of lemon.
Now give attention to the couscous! It should be steamy and fluffy because couscous is good like that and doesn't mind being ignored for a little while. Stir in a nub of butter and a small spoonful of harissa. Mix in all the toppings and use the last half of the lemon to squeeze on top.
For plating it looks very pretty serving it family style, with the salmon resting on the couscous and any leftover seeds/herbs on top. Sit back and relax with some wine and savor the great job you just did.