Sunday, May 27, 2012

Breaking the Fast: First Slice of Swordfish

So today, I broke the Daniel Fast, yesterday being the last day.  It felt good to know that I can have whatever I want now, but I feel no great pressure to go out and "make up for lost time".  I was, however, more than ready to eat some fish!  In a previous blog entry, I think I mentioned that I might buy some fresh fish when I went to Whole Foods.  And so I did.  Rather, the fish was frozen, but that was okay, I still bought some.  The fish of choice was swordfish, which I'd never had before.  

So based on my virgin encounter with this fish, here's what I can now tell you about it:  If you like a firm, mild-flavored fish with which you can do a lot, do not sleep on swordfish!  It's not something you're going to feed your family on the regular; I picked up two good-sized pieces for six and change per.  I suppose two people who don't eat that much could have split the portions I got, but I've eaten restaurant portions of meat the same size as the portions of fish I bought, and I just ate one of them by myself, with no problem and without dividing the portion, and I'm not uncomfortably stuffed at all.   So one portion will definitely satisfy the average appetite.  I'd reserve it as a date night food if I were in that kind of relationship.  But my research indicates that in addition to pan-frying it, you can poach it in olive oil, broil it, bake it, or use it in stews.  Once cooked, you can flake it in salads the way you would use tuna.

When you go to buy swordfish, you will notice that it is cut in steaks, which means the butcher (if that is what you call the person who prepares fish) cuts through the fish instead of cutting down the sides of the fish; a cut down the side of the fish is how you get a fillet.  The steaks I got were sliced about an inch thick.  They were a sort of grayish-pink with a distinct bud-shaped marking in the flesh.  My research indicated that when you see that marking, it should be more pink than brown.  Brown indicates that the fish is old, in which case you may want to leave it. Thawed out, the fish will feel pretty firm.  If it's frozen when you get it, you are recommended to take it out of the package, place it in a bowl, cover the fish in plastic, and thaw it in the refrigerator.  Once thawed, you can marinate it in lemon juice with salt and pepper sprinkled on for taste when you finally cook it.  Four hours is a long enough marinate time, I think.  As for the piece of skin that comes on it, the recommendation is to leave it in place during cooking to hold in the moisture so it doesn't become too dry, but do not attempt to eat the skin once the fish is cooked because it will be rubbery.

Okay, now go get your mise en place, and I'll tell you how I cooked it.  You'll need one or two swordfish steaks thawed and marinated in whatever seasonings you like on your fish.  I used the aforementioned lemon juice sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Since I also bought some chili powder yesterday, I decided to use that, too, but not in the marinade.  You'll need some oil or cooking spray to grease a skillet or other frying device.  And you'll need a plate covered in paper towels to soak up the excess oil that comes off the fish when it's done.

First, if you haven't done this already, you want to rinse the thawed fish in cool water, play it out on paper towels, and pat it dry.  You can either cook it at this point or marinate it by putting your marinade ingredients into the bottom of a shallow bowl or other container big enough to hold the fish, then cover it with plastic.  Since I don't have plastic, I used a resealable storage container.  put your fish into the container with the marinade, cover it, and go on about your business until it's time to cook.  Pay close attention to how thick your fish is cut; if you plan to pan-fry it, this will be your indicator of how long per side to cook it:  Per inch, you will cook it five minutes on one side.

To prepare, heat a cast-iron or other type skillet or frying pan over medium heat until a bead of water dropped onto it goes dancing on the surface as it boils away.  If you use non-stick spray, then you should have already sprayed your pan before you preheated it.  Once your pan is nice and hot, and if you're using oil instead of cooking spray, pour in a small amount of cooking oil, enough to slick the surface.  I do this by taking up the pan and tilting it to allow the oil to run over onto all the surface of the pan.  It doesn't take the oil very long to get hot at this point, so have your fish ready to put into the pan as soon as the oil is hot.  Very gently and carefully lay the fish into the pan or skillet and allow it to cook on that side for five minutes.  Once the fish is in the skillet, you can sprinkle your favorite seasonings on.  I used Kosher salt, ground black pepper, and chili powder, sprinkled into my hand and then onto the fish, a pinch at a time.  

At the five minute mark (for a 1-inch thick fish steak), turn it with a pancake turner and cook the other side for four minutes, optionally sprinkling more seasonings over the up-facing side.  During this time you want to layer paper towels onto the receiving plate to catch the excess oil.  At the four minute mark, remove the fish from the frying pan and put it on the plate to drain.  Don't worry about the fact that you cooked it for less time after you turned it; this will prevent you overcooking the fish.  When it flakes easily, you'll know it's done.  Have your other meal selections ready to plate when you remove the fish form the heat; it will cool quickly.

I had my first taste of swordfish accompanied by a tabbouleh salad, with ordinary mild salsa and a generous scoop of a garlic-feta dip to go with the fish, although the fish needed nothing.  The combination of the lemon juice seeping into the fish, plus the salt, pepper, and chili powder made for a very tasty piece of seafood.

I'd intended to have some oven-fried potato sticks, but as I was taking them out of the oven, I saw that they were starting to burn a little, and in the attempt to shake the baking sheet they were on, I instead tilted the sheet and spilled all but a few pieces onto the floor.  I was disgusted with myself and did not want to take the time to make more, since I cooked them at the same time as the fish so as to have them ready when the fish was done.  The few I did get to taste were pretty good, though.  And because I cooked both fish steaks, I have another piece for tomorrow, so I'll feel as though I'm having a little picnic for Memorial Day.

Speaking of which, don't forget to thank God for the sacrifices made by our war dead for the sake of this country, and for the freedoms we enjoy because of them. And don't forget to thank those of our servicepeople still living for their service also, whether or not they're still active.  Freedom is sweet, but it is not free, or is it cheap.  I appreciate having mine.

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