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.
Ingredients (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:
Add all the dry ingredients to a food processor.
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.
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.
NOTES: 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.