During the summer grilling season, swordfish makes a succulent meal, one I look forward to. Given environmental and sustainability issues, however, it hasn’t always been so easy to recommend with a clear conscience.
Because of overfishing, swordfish numbers were dangerously low for many years. But after a long-term boycott and moratorium put in place by concerned consumers and chefs — alongside stricter federal regulations — over the last several decades, swordfish populations in U.S. waters are now at a sustainable level, well above the target goal. That is good news.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems, among them bycatch (the incidental capture of nontarget species, like other fish, turtles and seabirds). But large driftnets, which catch everything indiscriminately, have been replaced by hook and line gear, and better systems are in place for the release of smaller fish and the protection of sea turtles.
In general, the U.S. fishing industry, with government support, is continuing to explore new ways to improve sustainability.
Another concern is mercury, found in many larger fish like swordfish and tuna. Eaten occasionally, though, as part of a varied diet, swordfish is considered a beneficial source of nutrition.
Always buy domestic swordfish — local, if possible — from smaller purveyors. For more information, consult fishwatch.gov and seafoodwatch.org.
Now, with that bit of necessary preamble, may I say that swordfish is incredibly delicious? Even people who don’t like fish will often go for swordfish. It’s meaty, boneless and benign. It’s sweet and juicy, and it takes well to almost any kind of sauce. It will gladly accommodate bold, robust flavors.
I find swordfish is best pan-seared or grilled. Sometimes I like to cut it into thin slices to make scaloppine and cook them very briefly on both sides in a hot pan. With a quickly sizzled sauce of brown butter and capers, dinner is a cinch (a slice of the swordfish on a roll makes a great sandwich, too).
For grilling, I prefer slices about 3/4-inch thick. The large, thick-cut swordfish you find at many fishmongers is hard to cook properly, and the portion size is huge. An 8-ounce slice is plenty big for one; depending on the menu, it’s enough for two.
Here, swordfish is topped with an easily made spicy salsa of cherry tomatoes, anchovy, hot pepper and smoky pimenton. (If swordfish is unavailable, choose a different firm-fleshed fillet.) The whole affair is rather salad-like, best accompanied by arugula or lettuce leaves. Served with roasted potatoes or garlic toast for a casual picnic-style supper, it is, essentially, summer on a plate.
GRILLED SWORDFISH WITH SMOKY TOMATO-ANCHOVY SALSA
By David Tanis
4 (8-ounce) swordfish steaks, cut 3/4-inch thick
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch dried oregano
4 whole anchovy fillets, for garnish
Arugula leaves, for garnish
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 small garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
1 medium red onion, diced small (1 cup)
1 sweet red pepper, diced (1 cup)
2 Fresno chilies, seeds removed, minced
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2- to 3/4-cup olive oil
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes in different colors
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill. (Alternatively, use a cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat.) Place swordfish on a baking sheet and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Drizzle each with 1 teaspoon olive oil and rub with fingers to coat. Leave at room temperature.
To make salsa: Combine vinegar, paprika, tomato paste and garlic in mixing bowl. Stir to dissolve tomato paste. Add onion, peppers, anchovies and olive oil; stir. Add cherry tomatoes, lightly season with salt and pepper, then gently fold tomatoes into the mixture. Let marinate about 10 minutes.
Grill swordfish over medium-hot coals about 4 minutes per side. Remove to serving plate when juices begin to rise on second side.
Stir salsa and spoon generously over fish. Sprinkle with oregano. Garnish with whole anchovy fillets. Surround with a generous amount of arugula. Serves 4 to 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.