NEW ENGLAND wouldn't be home without village greens, autumnm leaves, silvery, shingled Cape Cod homes, and fresh seafood on the dining room table every week. On our family's table it was swordfish. We ate it regularly. And when we did, the fights among my brother, sisters and me for the largest piece were as fierce as a New England snow-storm.
Swordfish steaks are in the same league as lobster, oysters and clams -- they taste absolutely wonderful. The meat is tender and moist. Its flavor is sweet, with a delicate fish flavor. When properly cooked, it flakes with the touch of a fork yet retains the firm bite of tender meat.
Those who know count swordfish among the ocean's great game fish. Ask any seasoned fisherman and he'll tell you about the day he spent hours on the Atlantic in the hot sun trying to harpoon this angry fish that can weigh up to 600 pounds, that defends itself with a 3-foot sword and will attack anthing in its path.
The fish lost its popularity in 1970 when the Food and Drug Administration found it had an unusually high mercury content. The thought of brain, kidney or liver damage forced a voluntary ban by consumers and fish merchants, consigning it from the table back into the ocean.
It was only within the last few years that the ban dissolved and swordfish made its way back to many area restaurants and homes around the country. According to Gary Barone of Gary's restaurant on 18th Street, his restaurant sometimes sells as many as 20 servings a day and could sell more if its supply did not run out.
Sadly, as the mercury content dropped, the price shot up. Ten years ago a $3 purchase easily fed a family of five; today, that will buy you about half a pound. However, with no fat, no, bone, excellent texture and taste and substantial amounts of vitamins A and D, swordfish remains a sound purchase.
Swordfish is found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. The waters it comes from and its size affect the taste and texture. The white steaks are found in cold, northern waters and tend to be sweeter and juicier than the pinkish-brown ones, which are found in warm waters. In either variety, the brown center is oily and extremely fishy, so if you or your guests are borderline fish eaters, you might want to avoid eating that section altogether.
When buying the steaks, avoid those that have been frozen or cut from a swordfish weighing over 50 pounds after cleaning (anything larger than 8 inches in diameter) -- they will be tough and stringy, according to O. Williams, owner of Chevy Chase Seafood Market.
Like oysters, swordfish is best when the least is done to it. The easiest and, for me, most flavorful method of preparation is to broil or sautee the steaks in butter and spinkle them with salt, pepper and the juice of a fresh lemon. The trick to making them wonderful is to not overcook them. A one-inch steak should be cooked for no more than 10 minutes on each side.
Fresh swordfish is available at the following local fish markets:
Cannon Seafood, Inc.: 1065 31st St., NW; Market House, 3276 M. St. NW; 762-A Walker Rd. Great Falls, Va. -- $5.29/pound.
Larimer's Market: 1727 Connecticut Ave., NW -- $4.69/pound.
A & B Shellfish Co., Inc. -- 6025 Leesburg Pike, Baileys Cross Roads, Va.; 12209 Nebel St., Rockville, Md.; 3039 Ntuley St., Fairfax, Va. -- $6.99/pound.
Chevy Chase Seafood Market, 5509 Connecticut Ave., NW -- $6.99/pound.
For a slight change of pace or for someone whose palate is not geared to the straight fish flavor here are a couple of alternative cooking methods. BRAISED SWORDFISH IN GARLIC CREAM (4 servings)
The sauce in this recipe is a subtle blend of herbs, garlic, heavy cream which works to mute the flavor of the swordfish. When I tasted it, it was popular with those who care little for the flavor of seafood in general. For swordfish enthusiasts, the sauce presented a pleasant alternative to a lifetime of the pan broiled version. The lemon adds a nice tartness. 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 10 to 12 large cloves garlic, peeled Juice of 1 lemon Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 1/2 to 2 pounds fresh swordfish steaks, cut into 1/2 inch scallops Flour for dredging 2 to 3 tablespoons butter 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 large sprig of fresh thyme or 1/2 tespoon of dried Finely minced fresh parsley, for garnish
In a saucepan combine heavy cream and garlic. Simmer the cream partially covered for 15 minutes, or until the cloves are very soft and easy to mash and the cream has reduced by 1/2. Mash the garlic cloves into a fine paste, add lemon juice to taste, and season the garlic cream lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Season the swordfish scallops with salt and pepper. Dredge lightly with flour, shaking off the excess. In a large cast-iron skillet heat 2 tablespoons of butter with a teaspoon of oil. Add the swordfish scallops in 1 layer, together with the spring of thyme (if you do not have fresh thyme sprinkle each scallop with a little dried thyme.) Saute the scallops over moderate-to-high heat until nicely browned on both sides, turning them carefully. Do not burn the butter. If the butter has burned discard it and add 2 more tablespoons butter to skillet.
Lower the heat. Add the garlic-and-lemon cream. Partially cover the skillet and braise the scallops for another 3 to 4 minutes, basting them with the cream.
Carefully transfer the fish to a serving platter. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning. Spoon the sauce over the scallops, and sprinkle with parsley. From Peria Meyers' "From Market to Kitchen Cookbook." SWORDFISH STEAKS BAKED WITH HERBS AND WINE (4 servings)
The herb-wine sauce in this recipe is mellow and oniony. It allows the flavor of the swordfish to stand alone. The fact that it was the least favorite of the three ways I prepared the fish is no indication that the recipe lacks spunk. 1 1/2 to 2 pounds swordfish Waxed paper Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup flour Olive or vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon oregano 1/4 cup chopped shallots or scallions 1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs 1/2 cup dry white vermouth
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut surrounding skin off the swordfish, wash the steaks in cold water and place on waxed paper. Salt and pepper on both sides, roll in flour and shake off excess. Pour 1/8 inch layer of oil into flameproof baking dish or skillet and set over moderately high heat; when almost smoking, brown fish lightly for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.
Sprinkle the vermouth, herbs and shallots or scallions over the fish and cover with a 1/8 inch layer of bread crumbs. Baste the fish with the sauteing oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes basting several times with the liquid in the dish. The steaks are done when a fork pierces them easily; do not overcook or the fish will be dry. From Julia Childs's "The French Chef Cookbook"