Swordfish, a meaty delicacy that can be cooked many ways

The high price of swordfish makes it all

The high price of swordfish makes it all the more important that you choose it wisely and cook it properly. Above, Sicilian-style stuffed swordfish. (July 28, 2010) (Credit: Rebecca McAlpin)

"Close your eyes when you eat swordfish," said Artie Hoerning, "and you'll think you're eating a New York shell steak. It's that tender, that juicy."

Hoerning, owner of Artie's South Shore Fish & Grill in Island Park, has spent a lifetime catching swordfish, selling swordfish, cooking swordfish and, to him, no other fish can compare. "Even people who say they don't like fish like swordfish," he said.

Swordfish's meaty texture and affinity for bold flavors make it the rare fish that feels right for a winter meal. There is no more versatile a fish: It can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, stuffed or skewered.

If swordfish has a downside, it's the price. While regularly stocked in most fish markets, it's always among the most expensive fish in the case. This time of year, swordfish on Long Island can cost anywhere from $11 to $28 a pound, with most markets selling it in the high teens.

It's usually impossible to beat the prices at Mastic Seafood in Mastic, which last week was selling swordfish for $10.99 a pound, actually "a little high for us," said co-owner Jim Cassidy.

To save customers money, Mastic often brings in the smaller swordfish known as pups, weighing between 50 and 100 pounds. (Swordfish in the 100- to 200-pound range, called markers, yield the 10- to- 12-ounce steaks that most markets and restaurants desire.)

In Great Neck, Marine Fisheries was selling swordfish for $27.99 a pound. Owner Charlie Fravola unapologetically declared that the fish he's getting right now from Florida "is the best sword you can get." (Both Artie's South Shore in Island Park and Jewel of the Sea in Woodbury were getting around $18 a pound for swordfish; Uncle Giuseppe's in Smithtown had it last week for $15.99 a pound, Setauket Seafood for $21 a pound.)

The high price of swordfish makes it all the more important that you choose it wisely and cook it properly. As with all fresh fish, it should be plump, glistening and virtually odorless. The reddish bands embedded in the swordfish's flesh are called bloodlines, even though they are not actually blood vessels but only darker-pigmented meat. "On a fresh swordfish," Hoerning said, "the bloodlines should be bright red, never brown."

Swordfish steaks should be cut 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick. Any thinner and they're apt to overcook; thicker and they're hard to cook through. The easiest way to tell if a steak is done is to take its temperature with an instant-read thermometer: Lift the fish up with a pair of tongs so you can slide the thermometer into it horizontally. It should read 120 to 125 degrees. If you prefer a lower-tech method: Pierce the fish with a sharp paring knife, then lay the blade flat against your lip. It should be hot.

What's the deal with mercury?

Swordfish finds itself at the center of two nonculinary controversies: mercury levels and sustainability.

Nearly all fish that live in the ocean contain traces of mercury, but larger ones, such as swordfish, tend to contain higher levels. The FDA has identified four fish -- swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish -- whose mercury levels are high enough that pregnant and nursing women and young children are advised to avoid them. (For the rest of the population, says the FDA, moderate consumption poses no health threat.)

More knotty is the problem of sustainability. According to the Blue Ocean Institute (blueocean.org), the nonprofit maritime conservation group headquartered at Stony Brook University, swordfish stocks in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are relatively abundant.

But many swordfish are caught using longlines, miles-long fishing lines set with baited hooks. "Longlines," according to Blue Ocean's sustainable seafood guide, "may also catch unwanted or endangered animals like sharks, seabirds and sea turtles, and may negatively impact the abundance of these species." Catching swordfish with harpoons results in less "bycatch."

 

Recipes

SICILIAN-STYLE STUFFED SWORDFISH

This simple recipe, created by Newsday's Erica Marcus, is inspired by the flavors of Sicily. It also can be cooked on the grill.

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and finely minced

1/4 cup finely minced parsley

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large (12-ounce) swordfish steaks, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick

Additional extra-virgin olive oil for coating fish

Salt

Pepper

For garnish:

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon capers

Lemon slices

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To make filling: Combine bread crumbs, lemon zest, minced capers, minced parsley and 1/4 cup olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Cut each steak in half, through the skin, so you have 2 triangular pieces. "Butterfly" each piece by cutting through it horizontally, starting at the point opposite the skin, and opening it like a book. The cut should extend back to within 1/2 inch of the skin, but do not cut through the skin. Spoon a quarter of the filling into each piece of swordfish, spreading it evenly. Pat the piece of fish back into a neat shape.

3. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet (with no plastic or wood accents) over medium-high heat. Brush or rub 1 side of each piece of fish with oil, then sprinkle on salt and pepper. Place fish, oiled side down, in skillet, then oil and season the side facing up. Do not touch the steak for at least 3 minutes, then gently lift it up to see if it is nicely browned. When it is, gently flip it over. When all steaks are flipped, transfer pan to preheated oven. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until flesh is just opaque. (Poking through with a sharp knife will do the trick.)

4. Carefully transfer fish to a platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley and capers. Anoint with more olive oil. Garnish with lemon slices. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

PAN-SEARED SWORDFISH STEAKS WITH ORANGE PIPERADE

Piperade is a Basque tomato and pepper stew. A mix of red, yellow and orange bell peppers makes a nice presentation, according to this recipe from The Washington Post. You'll have a bit of leftover piperade, which can be used as a side dish, stirred into a quick soup or pasta sauce or served with toast and poached eggs for breakfast.

The piperade can be made and refrigerated a day in advance. Reheat it in a microwave on high for several minutes before baking with the swordfish.

For the piperade

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 medium bell peppers (preferably red, yellow and orange), seeded and cut into 1-inch squares

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hands, plus the juice

8 cloves garlic, cut crosswise into thin slices

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon ground piment d'espelette (see note)

1 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus a few leaves for garnish

For the fish

4 (6-ounce) skinless swordfish steaks, 3/4 inch thick

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons canola oil

Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

1. Make the piperade: Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high until the oil shimmers. Add the onion, bell peppers and salt, stirring to coat evenly. Reduce heat to medium; cook vegetables gently until peppers are soft, about 15 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomatoes and juice, garlic, orange juice, piment d'espelette and smoked paprika. Increase heat to medium-high; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so the mixture gently bubbles. Stir in the chopped thyme.

3. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Have at hand a baking dish large enough to hold all the swordfish steaks in a single layer. Transfer 4 cups of the piperade to the baking dish, spreading it evenly. (You will have about 2 cups of leftover piperade for another use.)

4. Season the steaks well on both sides with salt and pepper. Wipe out the large saute pan, place over medium-high heat and add the oil; when oil is hot and shimmering, add the steaks and sear about 3 minutes, or until nicely browned.

5. Transfer fish to the baking dish, uncooked side down. Do not overlap the steaks. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until an instant digital-read thermometer inserted into the center of the steaks registers 125 degrees.

6. Divide the piperade evenly among wide, shallow bowls or individual plates. Top each portion with a swordfish steak. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then garnish with the thyme leaves. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Piment d'espelette, a Basque seasoning made from dried, ground red peppers, is available at specialty grocers. You also can substitute hot paprika.

 

PANKO-STUFFED SWORDFISH ROAST

This entree from The Washington Post is dinner-party worthy. Ask your fishmonger for a center-cut chunk of skin-on swordfish (with no bloodline), about 5 inches long and 4 inches thick -- akin to a small rib roast.

The stuffing mixture can be made and refrigerated a day in advance. The roast can be prepped and refrigerated several hours before it is baked.

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons capers, drained

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

2 cups plain panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves

1 (2-pound, 4-ounce) piece of skin-on swordfish, cut from one side of the center, with all traces of bloodline removed

1. Use a tablespoon of the oil to grease the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. To make stuffing: Heat the remaining 1/2 cup oil with the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until the butter foams. Add the capers and cook 1 minute, until they blister. Stir in garlic and thyme; cook 15 seconds. Add bread crumbs, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, lemon juice and rosemary, stirring until thoroughly incorporated. Let cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay a long piece of kitchen twine horizontally down the center of a cutting board. With its long side facing you, center the swordfish on top of the twine, skin-side down. (This is so you can tie the roast together after you finish stuffing it.) Cut 5 equidistant slices into the swordfish, making sure to stop slicing a half-inch before you reach the skin (at the bottom). This will create flaps that enclose the stuffing, and a total of 6 slices. Season each slice lightly with salt and pepper.

3. Fill each opening with an equal amount of the stuffing, pressing it in gently. As stuffing falls onto the cutting board, press it back between the slices of the fish. Don't worry if the roast looks a little messy. Tie the whole roast together with the twine to keep the end slices from collapsing as they cook. Transfer the tied roast to the baking dish, sprinkling any crumbs from the cutting board evenly over the roast.

4. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour; an instant digital-read thermometer inserted into one of the center slices should register 125 degrees. Discard the twine. Carve through to the bottom of the roast to separate the 6 slices. Serve each slice with plenty of stuffing. Makes 6 servings.

 

SWORDFISH SALAD TONNATO WITH CARA CARA-PARSLEY DRESSING

Tonnato (from "tonno," Italian for tuna) is a creamy sauce often served with thin slices of cold roast veal. In this Washington Post recipe, the sauce gives a boost of flavor to mild, meaty swordfish. We call for Italian canned tuna here because it imparts nice flavor. Cara Cara oranges are navels with a bright pink flesh and tangy flavor. If you can't find them, blood oranges or regular navel oranges will work fine.

The dressing and tonnato can be refrigerated (separately) a day in advance.

For the salad

2 Cara Cara oranges

5 ounces canned, oil-packed Italian tuna (reserve the oil)

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 pound skinless swordfish steak, cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons canola oil

8 ounces red leaf lettuce leaves or salad mix of your choice

For the dressing

1 or 2 Cara Cara oranges

1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 teaspoons capers, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. For the salad: Use a serrated knife to slice off the ends of the oranges. Place them on a cutting board and remove their peels and white pith, leaving as much of the fruit intact as possible. Holding the fruit in your hands, carefully cut between the membranes to separate the segments; place them in a bowl.

2. Squeeze any juice from the leftover fruit membranes and trimmed bits into a liquid measuring cup, to be reserved for the dressing.

3. Combine the tuna fish and its oil with the lemon juice in a food processor. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

4. Season the cubes of fish well with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the fish to the pan and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the fish cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

5. For the dressing: Use a Microplane grater to zest the oranges. If you have less than 1/2 cup reserved juice from segmenting the salad oranges, squeeze the juice from 1 or 2 oranges to yield 1/2 cup total.

6. Combine the parsley, capers, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, orange zest and 1/2 cup of orange juice in a blender. Puree until smooth.

7. When ready to assemble, add any juices that have accumulated in the pan of cooked swordfish to the parsley dressing. Place the greens in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with 3/4 cup of the dressing, tossing to coat evenly, then divide the dressed greens among individual plates. Arrange equal portions of the swordfish cubes on each salad.

8. Squeeze 2 tablespoons of the tonnato over each portion, then arrange the orange segments on top. Use the remaining 1/4 cup of dressing to finish/garnish each serving. Makes 4 servings.

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