I figured I’d start with swordfish, among the meatiest of all seafood. Its nutritional profile isn’t all that different from that of sirloin, except it has something beef doesn’t: more than a gram per serving of treasured, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And thanks to smart fishery management, the stock of Atlantic swordfish that was so decimated in the 1990s has been rebuilt, to the point where it is considered an environmentally friendly dining choice.
But it’s not cheap. The fish that local wholesaler Tim Sughrue of Congressional Seafood buys are long-line caught 40 miles east of Virginia Beach, where the Continental Shelf meets the warm Gulf Stream waters that attract swordfish. They’re only three days out of the water when he gets them, so fresh their bloodlines are still fire-engine red, which is why they command a premium, he told me.
I’ll say. I bought the swordfish for my experiments at Black Salt in the Palisades section of Washington for a stunning $26.99 a pound, so I resolved to use every bit of it I could.
The 12-pound chunk I purchased was as breathtaking as the price. A cross-section revealed bright, white whorls of flesh in two loins on either side of the bloodline, which I removed and discarded because I don’t care for its appearance and strong taste.
Swordfish’s meaty texture and, without that bloodline, its mild, lightly sweet qualities lend themselves to basic preparations, such as simply grilling steaks and dressing them with olive oil, lemon, herbs and perhaps a touch of garlic. To that end, I found myself drawn to regional styles of cooking that lack affectation: Basque, Japanese, Italian and Provencal. Those styles were born where seafood is a staple, and the quality of the catch is so superlative, cooks understand not to muck about with it.
Given what I paid for it, though, I wanted to take it to another level, but I had to learn the hard way to resist the urge to add ingredients superfluously. Example: An attempt at a Japanese preparation, poaching the fish in chili oil, failed because I was thinking too much about the garnish of shisito peppers (which didn’t contribute much flavor) and not enough about the fish (which turned out greasy).
I stayed with the Japanese approach on my second try. As I butchered more fish, I had to cut deep into a piece to remove the bloodline. That created a flap that, when bent back, made the steak look like a rib chop, which I marinated in chili oil, ginger, mirin and tamari. Before searing, I sprinkled it with sugar (for extra caramelization) and finished the “chop” in a very low oven (220 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of a high one, as I had been trained. The low-and-slow fish method results in a moister fish, a concept I learned from chef Michel Richard.