It’s been decades since I ordered sword fish in a restaurant. Broiled or grilled, it almost always arrives at the table over-cooked and dried out.
It was risky enough when restaurants were serving inch-thick pieces of sword fish. But then they cut back to half or three quarters of an inch and it became hopeless. The dollop of butter some places plop on top couldn’t rescue it.
I understand the difficulty chefs face. I’ve fought the good fight myself when broiling sword fish at home, watching it like a hawk to make sure it retained its moisture.
Then came a revelation. A couple of years ago I tuned in to the end of a cooking show on TV as the chef was taking a roasting pan out of the oven. I saw her removed the tin foil and reveal a second smaller pan inside the larger outer pan. The fish was in the smaller pan.
From her brief discussion of the dish as she plated it, I thought I had figured out what she had done. So, I tried it a few nights later. It turned into one of my proudest kitchen achievements: start with the finished dish and figure out how it got there.
Jennifer, who never was much of a sword fish eater in the first place, proclaimed it the best sword fish she ever tasted. Now, she requests it every month or so. A bit of online research led to something called Sword Fish Bagnara that is very similar to the recipe I created. My recipe is so simple and good that I’ve stuck to my own version and taken a pass on those I found online.
Larry’s Own Sword Fish Bagnara / the easiest, best sword fish recipe imaginable
2 pieces of sword fish, 6 – 7 oz. each, or a little bigger
3 Tblsp. of extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. of capers, optional
3 cups of water
1 13-inch roasting pan, 1 ½ – 2 in. deep
1 9-inch roasting pan, 1 ½ – 2 in. deep
1 flat roasting rack to fit into the larger roasting pan
Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees. Put the olive oil in the smaller pan and put the pan in the oven for 3 minutes.
Cut 6 slices of lemon, about 1/8 inch thick each. Put the lemon slices in the hot olive oil and return the pan to oven for 5 minutes. Turn the lemon slices and spoon the capers on top of the lemon. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Check after 3 minutes to be sure the lemon is not turning brown. If it is remove the pan from the oven. If not, let the lemon cook another 2 minutes. Then remove the pan from the oven.
In the meantime bring the water to a boil.
If you are using a single oven, set the pan with the lemon aside and boost the temperature to 400 degrees. If you have a double oven pre-heat the second one to 400 degrees.
When the oven temperature reaches 400 degrees, put the fish in the smaller pan. Put the lemon slices and capers on top of the fish.
Set the rack into the larger pan. Pour in the boiling water, stopping before it touches the bottom of the rack. Set the smaller pan on the rack. Seal the larger pan tightly with tin foil. Do not allow the tin foil to touch the lemon or fish.
Put the two nested roasting pans, sealed with tin foil, into the 400 degree oven for 12 minutes. If the fish is more than 1 inch thick, give it an extra 2 minutes in the oven.
Serve it with the lemon slices and capers on top of the fish and eat the lemon and capers with the fish.
I like to serve this with steamed new potatoes, buttered and parslied or just plain. A side of pasta with just olive oil and garlic works well instead of the potatoes. Stay away from a red sauce, which would fight with the acid from the lemon.