Pesce spada al salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmorigio Sauce)

Pesce spada salmoriglio

Salmoriglio is a typically Sicilian sauce that adds great flavor to fish, particularly that most typical of Sicilian fishes, swordfish. The fish is grilled or otherwise simply prepared and napped with sauce before serving. Salmoriglio looks like and plays a culinary role similar to the salsa verde that goes so well with bollito (boiled meats), adding zest to an otherwise ‘plain’ dish. But salmoriglio uses lemon (and lemon zest) rather than vinegar and some fresh oregano for a distinctly southern taste.

Swordfish is a great choice for folks who may not be too partial to fish. It has a mild taste and firm texture that really reminds me (almost) of a kind of white meat. Add some tasty sauce on top and even the most  hardcore piscisceptic might fall in love.


Makes enough sauce for a dinner serving 4-6 people

For the sauce:

  • A handful of fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano
  • 1 garlic clove
  • A spoonful of capers
  • 2 or 3 strips of lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper
  • The juice of one lemon
  • Olive oil, q.b.

For the fish:

  • Swordfish steaks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt


Add all the dry ingredients to a food processor.

Pesce spada al salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmorigio Sauce)
Use the pulse function to chop the ingredients until they are fairly finely minced. Add the lemon juice and a good pour of olive oil, enough to submerge all the other ingredients.

 Now whiz all the ingredients together until you have a fairly smooth sauce. Check the sauce for taste and consistency and see what it needs: if it’s a bit too thick or too tart, add some more olive oil. If it’s a bit too bland, add some more salt. If you want it tarter, add a bit more lemon juice. And so on. You can play with it until you reach a balance that appeals to you. The sauce should, in all events, be very flavorful.

Pesce spada al salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmorigio Sauce) 

Set the sauce aside in a bowl and turn to your swordfish. Rub a bit of olive oil on your steaks, just enough so it glistens, and sprinkle them with salt. To cook them, you typically grill them, but if it’s winter outside (as it is where I live) you can run them under a hot broiler or sear them in a skillet. Make sure they are nice and browned on at least one side. Be aware: having very firm flesh, swordfish takes a bit longer to cook than other kinds of fish and, at least to my taste, is not all that pleasant to eat when underdone. On the other hand, it can dry out so don’t overdo it; 3 or 4 minutes per side for thin steak (see below) should do the trick.
Plate your swordfish steaks and drizzle some sauce on top. Serve any extra sauce in a bowl for those who want more. Make sure to have some crusty bread at the ready to soak up any leftover sauce.


Of course, if you want to make this sauce the old fashioned way, you will finely chop all the dry ingredients with a knife or a mezzaluna (half-moon chopper), then whisk them together in a bowl. The look will be a bit different, since a food processor homogenizes and emulsifies the sauce, making it rather ‘creamy’ in look and mouth-feel, while a whisked sauce will be clearer and less smooth. Some recipes call for simmering salmoriglio over gentle heat for 5 minutes or so, including the one included in La Cucina Sicilian di Gangivecchio, a lovely regional cookbook by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene. They describe the sauce as being used on cold leftover fish and call it salmoigiano (which is a closer Italian approximation of the dialect name for this sauce, sammurigghiu.)

The use of fresh oregano is really pretty important for this dish, in my humble opinion, even if you will see many recipes that call for dried oregano, either as a substitute or as the ingredient. It may surprise some readers, but I’m actually not a big fan of oregano in general. I find it too pungent for my tastes. But if I do use it, I like to use it with discretion, and fresh oregano lends a much ‘softer’ oregano taste than dried. And in a raw sauce like this, a dried herb is not particularly appealing. Still in a ‘pinch’…

I would recommend you ask your fishmonger to cut the steaks fairly thin, no thicker than a finger. This will let you cook the fish fairly quickly and ensure a proper fish-to-sauce ratio. If you have rather thick steaks on your hands (which is very common if you buy them pre-cut) then you can either cut them into thinner slices (a bit tricky but doable) or just cook them longer.

While swordfish is perhaps the most typical fish to serve with salmoriglio sauce, at the price of swordfish steaks these days ($25/lb. when I bought them yesterday!) it’s a good thing that it really goes well with almost any simply prepared fish. And it can do double service as a sauce for grilled lamb, chicken or veal.

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19 Responses to “Pesce spada al salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmorigio Sauce)”

  1. 29 January 2012 at 19:27 #

    Thanks, Trix!

  2. 26 January 2012 at 16:04 #

    A simple, fresh sauce like this is the perfect way to enjoy an expensive cut of fish – it enhances, rather than covering up the flavor. Beautiful!

  3. 19 January 2012 at 08:00 #

    Thanks, Claudia! I wouldn't wait if I were you. Grilled is best, of course, but pan-seared is still awfully good…

  4. 19 January 2012 at 07:58 #

    Yum! I”ll have to try it her way!

  5. 19 January 2012 at 07:57 #

    The Monkey Bar version sounds delicious, too. Susan. Will need to check it out!

  6. 18 January 2012 at 15:54 #

    So do I wait for the temps to rise above zero degrees F and grill this? I forgot how much I liked swordfish – and the green sauce – well – I can spoonfeed myself that. Love the dialect version of the sauce – the only Italian I remember from my youth – is in dialect.

  7. 18 January 2012 at 10:39 #

    That looks delicious. My mother in law uses salmoriglio on tuna and I make her version: mint, garlic, oil, pepper, salt. I adore it. I look forward to trying your version next.

  8. 17 January 2012 at 08:33 #

    I have had this years ago at The Monkey Bar in NYC where they served the swordfish with the bone attached, just like you would a lamb chop and it was not only an outstanding presentation, it is still the best swordfish dish I have ever eaten.
    Now that I can get line caught swordfish at Whole Foods, I think it's time to revisit.
    Thanks for posting.


  9. 16 January 2012 at 15:44 #

    Couldn't agree more. :=)

  10. 16 January 2012 at 15:43 #

    Thanks, Simona! I like swordfish as well—if it were less expensive I'd eat it often!

  11. 16 January 2012 at 12:54 #

    Love a simple sauce on fish!

  12. 16 January 2012 at 12:43 #

    Swordfish made me reconcile with fish after years of dislike, so I agree with your assessment. Served on a Deruta plate, I see: nice!

  13. 16 January 2012 at 09:47 #

    Thanks, Lori! Great to hear from you. :=)

  14. 15 January 2012 at 19:26 #

    Hi Frank – I apologize for not stopping by in a while. Your new format is awesome! I am so impressed. Best wishes for continued success with your fabulous blog.
    I love that you made up a new word!! Ha!
    The sauce is a keeper for me.

  15. 15 January 2012 at 14:17 #

    Yes, indeed, Arturo. It's almost all-purpose!

  16. 15 January 2012 at 14:16 #

    Hey, I made it up, but I like it. ;=)

  17. 15 January 2012 at 08:56 #

    Loved this sauce! We don't have much swordfish here but I guess I should go well with many other types of fish! :)

  18. 15 January 2012 at 00:27 #

    Piscisceptic? Whoa Frank,that's a new word to me, and I look forward to the opportunity to use it. But it definitely doesn't describe me. Fish is a favorite, and this particular dish looks terrific.


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