This recipe and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com or in her cookbook, One Pan Whole Family.
I lived in Spain back in the mid 70’s in a little fishing village down the coast from Torremolinos called La Carihuela. My travel buddy, Anne, and I would splurge on a slice of swordfish once a week from a little open-air hut down on the beach. The fisherman would saw a steak from the large fish lying on a wooden table, wrap it up in a piece of newspaper and we’d carry it home to cook in our one and only pan with peppers, onions and garlic in a puddle of fresh olive oil. Starving, we would gobble every last bite, sopping up all the extra juice on our plates with slices of toasted garlic bread. It was a feast fit for queens or at least two starving 20-year-olds on the adventure of their lives.
Fast forward to 2019 and I still love swordfish. It’s such a dense, meaty fish that it’s sometimes called the “steak” of the ocean. An excellent source of protein, potassium, selenium, vitamin D and E, it’s not only good tasting but good for you as well. I love it pan-sautéed as we ate it in Spain, but it’s also perfect for grilling, you guessed it, just like a steak.
The basic cooking time for most fish is 7 minutes per inch of thickness. Because it doesn’t have marbling like a steak, I like to cook fish fast. That way, the moisture is less likely to cook out of the fish. Cooking fish with high heat (or fast) means that it cooks more quickly, retaining more moisture. Longer and slower cooking (low heat) just means it takes longer to cook, so the moisture will cook out. When cooking fish in a skillet, I do it over medium-high heat. I like to cook fish at 400°F in the oven. Most fish filets will come in at 1-inch or thinner so the 7-minute per inch time frame is a good guideline to remember.
A heavy 12-inch skillet or a cast iron pan will serve you very well when cooking fish. Another good tool is a fish spatula, which has an offset, thin edge that allows you to get under a cooked piece of fish to turn it without tearing the flesh. It doesn’t hurt to use a timer when cooking fish as the minutes can go by quickly, especially if you’re continuing with the recipe as the fish cooks.
Skin-on or Skin-Off?
Cooking fish with the skin on will yield more flavorful and moist fish. The skin protects the flesh of the fish from the drying effects of the heat, plus some flavor transfer. Even if you don’t like the skin, it’s still a good idea to cook it skin-on. Most of the time the skin crisps up and is easy to remove once cooked. On swordfish, the skin is only around the edges of the steak. The fishmonger can remove this for you along with the bloodline which runs down the backbone of the fish but both can be easily removed after cooking as well.
When grilling fish, a drizzle of olive oil is a nice touch as it helps keep it from sticking to the grates and also protects the flesh, helping to seal in the juices. Whether cooking in a pan or on the grill, the same 7-minute per inch rule applies. I like to give it 4 minutes on the first side and 3 on the second since it takes a few minutes just to get the cooking started.
Salt and pepper work just fine as far as seasoning swordfish, but herbs and spices are always a welcome addition. I’m more likely to use fresh herbs such as cilantro, rosemary, thyme or parsley, but there are dried spice blends that I often use as well. One of my favorites is Herbes de Provence, a blend of thyme, savory, sage, lavender and rosemary. Italian herb blends are also tasty and easy to find as are seasoned herb and salt blends such as Two Brothers Seafood Seasoning. It saves time to use seasoning blends for a one jar sprinkle instead of searching the spice cupboard for that elusive jar of thyme. Spices to try include the Indian blend garam masala or harissa from North Africa. Both include lots of warm spice in the way of cinnamon, cardamom and cumin and they also taste great sprinkled over vegetables, so you will use them a lot.
Swordfish’s mild flavor allows a wide variety of possible seasonings and sides. Predictably, just about anything you like with a steak will go well with swordfish. To me, there’s nothing better than this simple Spanish taste memory of swordfish and peppers or a delicious Niçoise salad topped with freshly-sautéed swordfish instead of the usual canned tuna. Both recipes are perfect or fall, easy to execute on a weeknight and good enough for company or two really hungry 20-year old girls.
Swordfish with Peppers and Grilled Garlic Bread
Start-to-Finish: 45 minutes
Hands-on Time: 30 minutes
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 red onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 large tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt + more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- 4- 6 oz. swordfish steaks, about 1-in thick
- 8 slices country-style bread, sliced
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
- On a large cutting board, chop the garlic and transfer it to a small bowl. Thinly slice the onion and peppers and transfer them to a medium bowl. Dice the tomatoes and chop the thyme separately.
- To make the garlic oil, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add 1/4 cup oil and half the garlic. Heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a heat-proof bowl.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and peppers and 1/2 teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring every now and then for 4 minutes or until they soften. Add the remaining garlic, paprika and tomatoes and stir and cook until the juices evaporate and the mixture is jammy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if it needs it.
- Pat the fish dry and season both sides with a sprinkle of salt, a few grinds of pepper and thyme. Drizzle both sides with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- Grill the fish directly over the heat, turning once, just until cooked through, about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side depending on the thickness of the fish and heat of the grill. Grill fish until it feels firm when pressed, flakes or reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.
- Meanwhile, brush the bread with the garlicky oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place bread on the grill, oiled side down and grill on both sides until golden, about 2 or 3 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
- Divide the bread and swordfish between heated plates and spoon the pepper mixture over the top. Serve hot.
Extra Hungry Kids? Wrap canned sliced potatoes in foil packets with butter, seasoning and a sprinkle of cheese. Grill with the fish until warm.
Adult Taste Buds? Add chopped Kalamata olives and capers to the adult portions of peppers.
In the Glass: The vegetables here dictate a light red wine such as Pinot Noir. It can be hard to find a good one under $20 but La Crema Pinot Noir could be just the bottle you’re looking for.
Swordfish Salad Niçoise
Start-to-Finish: 35 minutes
Hands-On Time: 35 minutes
- 8 red skinned new potatoes, each sliced into 6 pieces
- 8 oz. green beans, trimmed and snapped in two, about 2 cups
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
- store-bought hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
- 2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs, such as chives, thyme, basil, parsley
- 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, cut into strips
- 8 anchovy filets, rinsed and patted dry if salt-packed, optional
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 1/2 lbs. swordfish filets
- Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- 1- 5 oz. container mixed greens
- 1/2 cup niçoise or kalamata olives
- Fill a 12-inch frying pan with water (up to about 1-inch from the top) and heat it over medium-high heat, covered, until it boils.
- While the water comes up to a boil, slice the potatoes, trim and snap the green beans halve the tomatoes, peel and quarter the egg and mince the herbs on a large cutting board in separate piles. Measure out the red peppers, prepare the anchovy filets and salt and pepper the swordfish.
- Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, herbs and 1/2 cup olive oil in a medium bowl along with a few grinds of pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if it needs it. Transfer half the dressing to a smaller bowl.
- When the water boils, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and potatoes. Bring the pan back to a boil over medium-high heat and boil the potatoes for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low if it is boiling too rapidly. Add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes or until the beans are tender and the potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain the potatoes and beans in the sink and run cold water over them to cool them down slightly.
- Gently toss the cooked potatoes and beans with the dressing in the medium bowl. Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired.
- Return the empty pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When it shimmers, add the fish to the pan and cook for 4 minutes. Flip the fish over with a spatula and cook the second side 3 minutes or until cooked through. It should feel firm when pressed, flake with a fork or register 145°F with an instant-read thermometer. If you’re not sure it’s done, remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit for 1 minute undisturbed, then transfer the fish to a plate.
- Arrange the greens on a big platter and top them with the dressed potatoes and green beans. Scatter over the tomatoes, egg, red pepper and anchovies, if using, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slice the swordfish into strips and arrange decoratively on top. Drizzle the remaining dressing liberally over the salad and serve it immediately. No garnishing required.
Extra Hungry? Extra easy. Just add bread and a plate of extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with grey sea salt for dipping.
In the glass: In the spirit of alfresco dining in the south of France, what could be better than a rosé? Of course, a bottle of Bandol would be ideal, but you won’t go wrong with Domaine du Roquefort Rosé de Provence Corail. It has lots of strawberry and orange but a dry finish that works especially well with the blast of flavor going on in this dish.