That’s what all the nutritionists say, three times a week for a healthy diet: Eat more fish! And I’m happy to comply. If you live in a fish-loving culture, as I do in Maine, it’s easy. From sweet oysters, clams and mussels to big halibut steaks, from freshly caught squid to bluefish and mackerel, from exquisite farmed salmon to locally harvested scallops and haddock, smelts and monkfish, and cod–and lobster, of course.
As a confirmed pescatarian I’m puzzled by the reluctance of so many cooks, even very good cooks, to tackle fish. For me, it’s one of the easiest things in my whole repertoire, requiring litte more than a hot grill or broiler, a hit of salt and pepper, a dollop of extra-virgin olive oil and a quick spritz of fresh lemon juice at the end. There is, however, a secret ingredient that is critical to any fish preparation and that is a first-rate fish monger,
even if it’s just the person behind the seafood counter in a local supermarket. By first-rate, I mean someone you can count on to tell you the truth about their offerings—is it fresh? is it farmed? when was it caught? where was it caught? And if the answers don’t satisfy, what else can you suggest?
Once you’ve found that reliable person, stick closely with him or her and follow their advice.
Fresh swordfish is one of my standby seafood choices. It’s regularly available, usually of top quality, and something that often pleases even those finicky types who say they don’t eat fish. Ask for a steak to be cut thick, but not too thick—3/4 to 1 inch is best, I think. A whole steak, weighing about 2 pounds, is plenty for 4 people, with some left over for snacking the next day (chop up leftovers and toss them in your lunchtime salad, for instance).
Put your black iron skillet, one big enough to hold the steak, on high heat and turn on the exhaust blower. Pat the swordfish dry with paper towels, then sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. When the skillet is really hot, swirl about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil all around the bottom and immediately drop the swordfish right in the middle of the pan. Sear the fish for 3 to 4 minutes, then flip it over and sear the other side. Both sides should be seared to a beautiful gold color. This should be sufficient to cook the fish all the way through without overcooking, but if not, flip it back again for another minute on the first side.
At this point, the fish is ready to serve, garnished simply with a glug of good olive oil and a litte lemon juice. You can, of course, do lots of other things to it as well—you could add chopped black olives and capers to the basic oil-and-lemon sauce; you could make an herby, nutty pesto, blitzing herbs, nuts and a bit of cheese with some oil in the food processor; you could make a fresh tomato sauce in season, with chopped raw tomatoes and chilis and maybe some cilantro; or you could make a Catalan romesco, pounding to a sauce toasted almonds and bread, garlic, roasted tomatoes and oil. Use your imagination to come up with whatever tickles your palate.
Or turn the swordfish into this gorgeous swordfish and tomato pasta dish, which is hefty enough to be a fine main course all on its own—pasta e basta, as we say in Italy. This is a variation on a recipe in The Four Seasons of Pasta, but I sneaked in a tablespoon of sriracha instead of the crumbled dried red chili.
- One seared swordfish steak, weighing about 3/4 pound
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 2 cups canned whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained (but keep the liquid) and coarsely chopped
- Crumbled dried red chili to taste (or Sriracha, see above)
- Optional: ½ cup chopped black olives, preferably Gaeta or niçoise
- Optional: 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
- About 500 grams (1 pound) farfalle, rigatoni, or other short, stubby pasta
- ½ cup minced flat-leaf parsley or basil, or both mixed
In a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients including the pasta, combine the olive oil with the onion and garlic and set over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft (but don’t let them brown). Add the tomatoes, raise the heat and cook rapidly until the tomatoes are soft and melting into a sauce. Stir in the chili or sriracha along with the olives and capers if using. Measure the reserved tomato liquid and add water if necessary to make 2 cups. Add this to the sauce, cover the pan, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, until thick.
While the sauce is cooking, break the swordfish into bite-size pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Tip in the pasta and return rapidly to a boil. Follow directions on the package for cooking time but be prepared to cut it short by about 2 minutes.
Stir half the chopped herbs into the tomato sauce and taste, adjusting the seasoning. Add the swordfish pieces to the sauce and stir gently. As soon as the pasta has reached a point just before done, drain it and turn the pasta right into the sauce. Toss gently and let it cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, then serve immediately garnishing it with the remaining chopped herbs.
Someone will immediately raise the question of mercury and PCB contamination of swordfish and other fish too. But when two researchers from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health looked into seafood and health concerns, they concluded: “For major health outcomes among adults, . . . the benefits of fish intake exceed the potential risks.” See: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/203640