Reflections On Swordfish: Thick Or Thin?

I like fish…I really do! When I go to a restaurant that seems as if the cooks know what they are doing, I will happily order it. But there is nothing so disappointing as an overcooked piece of fish, and I have, on occasion, been the cook who disappointed. Fish is far more sensitive than meat to small differences in temperature and time. I can be handed a chunk of beef, told that I must cook it perfectly, on pain of death, on a strange stove or grill, and I’ll have a fighting chance. But fish is different…more delicate…less forgiving of inattention.

Swordfish seems to be a particularly touchy fish. I have a pretty good recipe that is extremely simple, but the actual cooking is by no means effortless. That irritating little man in the toque — who sits on my shoulder when I am doing something with which I am not quite comfortable — usually whispers in my ear, “what are you, a moron? You’re overcooking it!” I usually don’t, and if I do, it’s never awful. But that is not a resounding recommendation of my cooking skills. I assumed that eventually I would get better at cooking fish, especially if I practiced enough.

It never occurred to me to try a different thickness of swordfish steak, mostly because they are always cut to the same size, no matter where I have seen it. Between 1″ and 1.5″ is apparently the law. But last week some renegade fishmonger decided to risk everything and cut some steaks that were at least 2.5″ thick. The fish looked great, and the thick pieces didn’t have any of that dark red meat that I find less than delightful. I cooked it the same way I always do, with a quick sear and then into a warm (275°-300°) oven for six or seven minutes to finish.

20 minutes later (remember, it was twice as thick) I finally took the steaks out of the oven. After a short rest* we discovered that the fish was perfectly cooked. Perfect — as in the absence of any flaws! That additional thickness made a huge difference, allowing the fish to cook gently without overcooking or drying out.There was no thin layer of overcooked flesh on the surface, and no undercooked strip in the middle. Just a marvelous evenly cooked chunk of swordfish that was the best I had ever made. Hell, it only took me 25 years of cooking to figure this out. I’m proud of myself!

* What? You don’t let fish rest? All meat and fish should be allowed to rest!

3 Replies to “Reflections On Swordfish: Thick Or Thin?”

  1. i’m becoming more and more convinced that in practice, i rarely undercook anything. that is to say, i generally end up on the overcooking side of the fence.

    i can’t remember the last time i said “damn, this pasta is too al dente”. it’s just never the case, no matter how hard i try.

    red meat? if you think it’s too rare, just let it rest, tented, and it won’t be for much longer.

    we have so much to learn. and after we learn it, so far to go to actually put it into practice.

  2. Did you cover the fish with foil when finishing in the oven? I’ve seen a similar style…get a good sear on the grill and then finish in the oven. The observation on thinckness is bery interesting. You truly have suffered for our benefit.

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