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How to Cook Swordfish

Fresh Swordfish Fillets on Cutting Board

The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla at 

It may sound a little crazy, but those who love to cook and eat seafood consider swordfish the Little Black Dress of the sea. Let me explain. Swordfish is always appropriate and versatile with a wide assortment of sauces, herbs and flavorings (accessories), and it goes with just about any vegetable at any time of the year. Plus, on days when you’re rushed or don’t have time to bother, a delicious swordfish dinner can be ready in about 10 minutes, just about the same time it takes to pull that fabulous LBD over your head and slip into a pair of kitten heels.

The comparison doesn’t stop there. Swordfish is one of the most flexible fish when it comes to preparation as it is terrific grilled, pan-fried, baked or broiled. Come to think of it, swordfish is actually better than a Little Black Dress.

Read on to learn why swordfish should be showing up more frequently on your dinner table.

Is Swordfish Similar to Steak?

Swordfish are large, highly migratory, predatory fish with a long, flat, pointed bill. They are found in tropical and temperate parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, reach a length of about 10 feet and can weigh up to 1,400 pounds. Rich in essential nutrients, including selenium and omega-3 fatty acids, swordfish is also high in Vitamin D.

Fresh Swordfish Fillets on a Plate

Swordfish is a fish, but it’s also a steak. Unlike most fish fillets, swordfish is sold sliced, a center-cut from the whole fish with the backbone removed. The flesh is tighter than most fish with a twisty, swirly muscle pattern that resists falling apart once cooked. Swordfish steaks usually weigh about 12 ounces, depending on how thickly they are sliced. The hefty cut’s size and texture are what appeals to both fish and steak lovers.

How to Buy Swordfish

Mild-tasting, white-fleshed and meaty in texture, swordfish is sold exclusively as steaks. Its mild taste makes it a particularly good choice for those who are unsure if they like fish. The color of the flesh is almost entirely due to its diet. The four accepted colors are white, ivory, pink and a sort of pumpkin-orange, which happens when the fish’s diet was heavy on shrimp. Any brown flesh should be avoided. Serving size is anywhere from 6-8 ounces for most people, so one steak should feed two people.

Fresh Swordfish Fillets on Paper

The thickness of the swordfish steak is quite important. Request slices that are at least 1-inch thick. That way the steak will be less likely to fall apart once cooked, especially if you plan to grill it. It’s also a great idea to always buy the same thickness, as it will be easier for you to know when it is done cooking. Practice makes perfect!

Frozen swordfish is also quite good, and less expensive. Most frozen swordfish have been caught, processed and frozen on board the boat while out at sea, so frozen fish is actually very fresh. If you can’t find fresh swordfish, frozen is a very good option.

How to Store Swordfish

Buy fresh swordfish the day you’d like to cook it and keep it in the fridge until the moment before it hits the heat. Frozen swordfish should be transferred in its package to the refrigerator 24 hours before cooking so that it can thaw slowly. If you are in a bind and need to thaw quickly, place the wrapped fish in a sink of cold water and it should thaw in about an hour or so. Never thaw fish in the microwave as it will thaw unevenly and cook some parts while leaving other parts frozen.

How to Cook Swordfish

Swordfish is categorized as an oily fish, which allows it to maintain moisture when cooking. This is a benefit as it gives you some leeway in case you overcook it a smidge. Salt and pepper, fish seasoning, Old Bay or dried herbs such as Herbes de Provence, thyme, basil or oregano all work wonders on swordfish. You can also use marinades such as Teriyaki or a little lemon juice and olive oil, but be careful not to let the fish rest too long in the marinade as it will become mushy. Marinating for about 15 minutes in the fridge should do it.

Pan-Fried Swordfish

The general rule in cooking fish it to cook for 7 minutes per inch of thickness, but because of its dense structure, the flesh of swordfish can take a bit longer to cook through.

Here are a few guiding principles for the various ways to cook swordfish:

  • Grilled: Because of its firm texture, swordfish is perfect for the grill. Simply brush with olive oil so that it doesn’t stick and grill for about 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Turn and grill for another 3-4 minutes for a 1-inch-thick steak. If unsure if the fish is done, transfer it to a plate, cover and let rest 2 minutes.
  • Sautéed or Pan-Fried: Heat a slick of oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cook the fish for 5 minutes. Turn and cook for another 4-5 minutes. If unsure if it’s done, remove the pan from the heat and put a lid over it. Allow the fish to rest in the hot pan for 2 minutes.
  • Broiled: Brush the fish with oil and place under the broiler, about 4-5 inches from the heat. Broil for 4 minutes, turn and broil another 4-5 minutes. If unsure if the fish is done, turn the broiler off, move the pan to the lower part of the oven, close the door and let rest in the hot oven for 2 minutes.
  • Baked: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush the fish with oil and bake on a sheet pan for 15-20 minutes.

Swordfish’s mild flavor makes it easy to pair with just about any sauce or topping.

Here’s a few to get you started:

  • Marinades: Teriyaki, lime, orange, lemon or grapefruit, Harissa, soy sauce, maple syrup, ponzu
  • Salsas: Tomato, mango, pineapple, corn, salsa verde, tomatillo, avocado, grapefruit, papaya, orange, olive, agrodolce
  • Butters: Compound butter (with herbs and shallots), caper butter, citrus zest butter, olive butter
  • Toppings: chopped citrus and herbs, olives, sundried tomatoes, capers, marinated artichokes, pesto
  • Salads: Make it a meal by topping the fish with tart, colorful salads such as a fennel salad with olives, an arugula salad with grape tomatoes, a chopped cabbage and apple salad or a radish salad with green onion. You get the idea.
Swordfish Fillets with Toppings

So, you can see why swordfish can be compared to the LBD. It’s always delicious (elegant), easy to cook (simple to wear) and goes with any flavoring (easy to accessorize). Grab a steak or two from Heinen’s Seafood Department and cook them up for a simple, but memorable weeknight meal, no heels required!

Carla Snyder in her kitchen
By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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