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Why This Recipe Works

For a fresh and modern spin on the simple technique of cooking fish in a packet, we decided to cook halibut fillets on a bed of fluffy couscous with a flavorful, Thai-inspired sauce. We mixed coconut milk, ginger, fish sauce, a little cilantro for a fresh herbal touch, and red pepper flakes for a subtle hint of heat. The bold sauce transformed the couscous into a rich and creamy side and infused the fish with flavor. We found that if we used too much sauce during cooking, the couscous soaked up all of the liquid and ended up gummy while the fish tasted bland. So we reserved some of the sauce to drizzle over the fish before serving.

Serves 4
Active Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes

Cod, seabass, and red snapper are good substitutes for the halibut. For an accurate measurement of boiling water, bring a full kettle of water to a boil and then measure out the desired amount.

1½ cups couscous
2 cups boiling water plus ¼ cup room-temperature water
Salt and pepper
1 cup canned coconut milk
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 (6- to 8‑ounce) skinless halibut fillets, 1 to 1½ inches thick
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine couscous and boiling water in medium bowl. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and let sit until liq­uid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool completely, about 20 minutes.

2. Combine room-temperature water, coconut milk, cilantro, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, and pepper flakes in small bowl.

3. Spray centers of four 14 by 12‑inch sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray. Pat halibut dry with paper towels. Divide couscous evenly among foil pieces, mounding it in center of each piece. Place 1 fillet on top of each couscous mound and spoon 1 tablespoon sauce over top. Reserve remaining coconut sauce.

4. Bring short sides of foil together and crimp to seal tightly. Crimp remaining open ends of packets, leaving as much headroom as possible inside packets.

5. Place packets on rimmed baking sheet and bake until fish flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife and registers 140 degrees, 15 to 18 minutes. (To check temperature, poke thermometer through foil of 1 packet and into fish.) Let halibut rest in packets for 3 minutes.

6. Microwave coconut sauce until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in rice vinegar. Transfer fish packets to individual serving plates, open carefully (steam will escape), and slide contents onto plates. Drizzle warm sauce over fish and couscous. Serve.

To Make Ahead 

  • Fish packets and remaining coconut sauce, prepared through step 4, can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours
  • To bake, continue with step 5, increasing cooking time to 18 to 20 minutes
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