Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onion Couscous

Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onion Couscous

This delicious, delicate, spicy cream dory with caramelized onion couscous is roughly 744 calories. That amounts to 46.8% of my allowed daily caloric intake, a limit I need to observe if I want to accomplish my goal of losing nine pounds in as many weeks.

How do I know? My new best buddy told me.

Meet My Fitness Pal, a free, fast, and easy to use calorie counter for your desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device. Only two days in, and I’m already addicted to this thing.

After trying the 7-day GM Diet but losing a disappointing 1.8 pounds, I decided to give this calorie counter a go. Highly recommended to us by Ren’s doctor brother, what it does is set a ceiling of calories that includes a breakdown on the number of carbs, fat, and protein that you’re allowed to consume daily in order to meet your weight loss goal. I indicated at the start of the program that I wanted to shed a total of nine pounds in nine weeks with zero exercise, giving me the magic number of 1,590 maximum calories that I’m allowed to have everyday.

Throughout the day, you input into the counter everything that you eat and drink. With each entry, it tells you precisely how many calories each item is worth before promptly subtracting that number from your allowed daily intake. For example, I had one piece of toast, one longganisa sausage link, and one cup of unsweetened, black instant coffee for breakfast this morning, the combined caloric value of which added up to 195, leaving me with 1,395 calories for the rest of the day. Pretty cool eh?

But wait, it gets better.

By the end of the day, I finished well under my allowed intake, consuming a total of just 1,153 calories. Advising me that I’d weigh a svelte 154.7 lbs in 5 weeks if I kept that up, it followed up this gentle pat on the back with a cautionary footnote:

“*Based on your total calories consumed for today, you are eating too few calories. Not only is it difficult to receive adequate nutrition at these calorie levels, but you could also be putting your body into starvation mode. Starvation mode lowers your metabolism and makes weight loss more difficult. We suggest increasing your calorie consumption to 1,200 calories per day minimum.”

Concerned about my health as well as my weight loss goals, this app is a true pal indeed. 😉

Try it yourself for free at www.myfitnesspal.com.

Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onions and Couscous

Light, delicate, and flaky, I adore cream dory, especially when it’s pan-seared like this. Those crisp, caramelized edges are so good!

What I love about this calorie counter is that it doesn’t deprive you of anything. Weight loss is achieved through portion control, which I’m confident I can do. More on this in the following weeks.
Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onions and Couscous


  • 5 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp harissa, plus extra to serve
  • 2 x 180g white fish fillets
  • 2 white onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 3/4 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 200g canned chickpeas, rinsed, drained
  • Juice of 5 pcs calamansi, plus extra pcs to serve
  • 1 long red or green chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup cilantro/coriander/wansoy, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and white pepper, to taste


  1. Combine 1 1/2 Tbsps oil and 2 tsps harissa in bowl. Season with some sea salt and white pepper, then add fish and coat in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp of oil in pan over medium-low heat. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 mins until lightly caramelized. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, for 2-3 mins until evaporated. Season and set aside to cool.
  3. Heat stock in small saucepan over medium-high heat with remaining 2 tsps harissa, whisking to combine, until coming to a boil. Pour in couscous, add 1 tsp sea salt, then turn off heat and cover. Allow to stand for 15 mins.
  4. Finely chop basil leaves. Fluff couscous with fork, then stir through onion, dried cranberries/raisins, chickpeas, calamansi juice, chilli, cilantro, and 1 Tbsp oil. Set aside mixture.
  5. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp oil in large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook fish for 2-3 mins on each side until just cooked through. Serve with couscous, calamansi, and extra harissa.

Setting Up the Shot

This is a new segment that I’ll be adding to all Reneelicious Recipes from now on. As you can see, my shots are far from polished. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d probably rate my food photography a -2 at best.

In short, I suck. 😆

Ever the student, I’m displaying these step-by-step images to document my progress as well as give fellow beginners the chance to benefit from my learning process. If you’re a pro and willing to share the wealth to us noobs, you can find my tip jar at the bottom of this post, labeled “Submit Comment”. Thanks! 😀

L: 1/320 f/1.4 ISO 100    R: 1/500 f/1.4 ISO 100

A couple of months ago, I invested in a simple, inexpensive home strobist setup to help me take better pictures. It was sunny today though, so I didn’t use it, feeling that the natural light in the room was sufficient. I set this up indoors, at noon, right next to an open sliding door.

The image on the left looked too washed out I thought, so I sped up the shutter just a bit, to allow in less light (1/500 vs 1/320). Though the ensuing image on the right still isn’t ideal, I much prefer working with images that are slightly too dark rather than too light, because I personally find them easier to color correct.
Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onions and Couscous

L: Same image as above right (no reflector)    R: Same camera settings but with silver reflector

Though I was happy with the camera settings, the resulting image was a little dark in spots, so I used a silver reflector to bounce natural light back into those areas. Notice how the tip of the fish fillet in the righthand picture is no longer in shadow, making for a more evenly lit image.
Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onions and Couscous

L: Before post-production    R: After post-production

Before and after some light, Photoshop magic.

If I start off with a decent image taken on a tripod with ample light, then I usually only have to tweak Levels, Shadows/Highlights, and Brightness/Contrast (in that order). But if the shot was handheld or didn’t have ideal lighting, then I would probably also have to tweak Hue/Saturation and Color Balance, as well as playing with the image’s sharpness, either with the Sharpen tool and/or the Unsharp Mask filter.

Far from great, but not bad either, right? If anything, at least the fish looks appetizing. 🙂
Spicy Fish with Caramelized Onions and Couscous

Room for Improvement

I didn’t notice this until I bumped up the contrast in Photoshop, but the plate is unevenly lit, the left side being brighter because it’s closer to the light source. In hindsight, I probably should have used the flash anyway despite having enough natural light, just to even things out.

Apart from the proper lighting, I feel that the styling needs the most work. The composition I think is pretty decent, I just need better props to add more visual interest to the image.

Wanna make a quick trip to Dapitan this Sunday, sweetheart? 😉

JB Macatulad

JB Macatulad

JB is one half of Will Fly for Food and its chief itinerary maker.  He's the one to blame for all the crappy photos and verbal diarrhea on this blog.  Don't listen to him.
JB Macatulad

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