Cooking Fish without a Recipe: Seasoning and Cooking Inspiration for Swordfish, Sole, and Sea Bass

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Swordfish steaks are made for the grill. You just need to know how to make a quick topping with a few herbs and vegetables, and dinner is set. Image source: Flickr CC user Bart Everson

I get it. Cooking fish is daunting for a lot of people. Customers ask me all the time what’s the best way to cook a particular fish, but I think what I think they mean by “best” is “easiest.” For many people, cooking fish seems complicated because they think it’s messy or smelly--or risky because they might overcook it. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

I’ve come up with a few time-tested ingredient combinations and cooking suggestions that will banish the fear of fish. These combos are the key to a good meal, no cookbook required.

Swordfish with Thyme, Olives, and Onions

Swordfish is a meaty, relatively mild flavored fish that does best with big, bold flavors. It’s much like a steak (and usually sold in steaks, not fillets), so the kinds of seasonings you might use on steak will usually work here. Thyme, olives, and onions do the job and provide wonderful aromas.

On the Grill

  • Grilling is my favorite way to cook swordfish. A thick and juicy swordfish steak is made for the grill. Season the fish with salt, pepper, and roughly chopped fresh thyme. Drizzle with some olive oil and place on a hot grill. Grill about two minutes each side over high heat.
  • Meanwhile, slice a few onions, coat with oil, and grill those, too, until translucent and starting to brown.
  • Remove the onions from the grill, roughly chop them, and add in chopped or halved kalamata olives. Add a little extra thyme, plus some salt and pepper, if you want.
  • Serve the onion-olive mixture on top of the swordfish.

Braised

  • Swordfish is a lean fish, so braising is a simple way to cook it without the risk of drying it out. In a deep skillet or ovenproof casserole dish, add swordfish seasoned with salt and pepper, sliced onions, sprigs of thyme, and your olives of choice, as well as a splash of water, a couple glugs of wine, and a third cup or so of olive oil. It should be enough that it won’t boil away but not so much that it covers the fish.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes with the dish loosely covered with aluminium foil.

Sole with Italian Parsley, Cherry Tomatoes, and Capers

While swordfish is hearty, sole is the complete opposite. It’s a flatfish, so its fillets are thin and delicate. That makes cooking a little tricky (you won’t want to grill this fish), but it’s also quite mild and sweet, and does well with the bright flavors of parsley, tomatoes, and capers.

Cooking in Parchment

  • Cooking in parchment paper (not waxed paper) is ideal for sole, especially with this seasoning combination, since there is no fear of the fish sticking to a pan or falling apart.
  • Season the fish with salt and pepper and place it on a 15-inch square piece of parchment paper. Add the parsley, tomatoes and a tablespoon of capers for each package. I also dribble in a tablespoon of white wine and add a pat or two of butter.
  • Fold the parchment paper in half above the fish so the edges meet and tightly fold the edges together, continuing until it fits snugly over the fish (this might take a little practice). Make sure to tuck the edges in so no steam escapes.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.
  • Season the sole with salt and pepper and dust with a little flour
  • Melt butter in a pan until almost smoking. Cook the fish until golden brown, turning only once.
  • While the fish is cooking, roughly chop the parsley and tomatoes and add some capers, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. When the fish is done, spread a little of the chopped salad on top.

Pan-Fried

Sea Bass, Miso, Lemongrass, and Shallot

All the combinations above lean on classic Mediterranean flavors, so this one offers something different. Sea Bass is quite mild and readily takes up these Asian flavors. Because it’s also a lean fish, cooking with moisture is best.

Cooking in Parchment

  • Assemble the fish as in the sole directions above. Coat the fish with white or yellow miso paste. This adds an element of savory--or “umami”--flavor. Thinly slice the white part of a lemongrass stalk and a couple of shallots, and put a couple of tablespoons of the mixture in each parchment packet along with a splash of white wine (or rice wine) and a pat of butter.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.
  • After cooking, be sure not to lose any of the delicious juices from the fish. Better yet, open the fish package over steamed jasmine rice and let the aromatic juices run into the rice.

Braised

  • Braising works fine with fillets, but I like to use this cooking method and herb combination with a whole, cleaned fish. Score each side of the fish with a knife three or four times.
  • Season with salt and pepper and then add spread a little miso and chopped lemongrass and shallots into the slashes and over top. Stuff a little inside the fish, too.
  • Place in a baking dish with a little water and white wine and cook, loosely covered with foil, at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve.

Fast and Fresh

Now that you have some basic cooking and seasoning methods under your belt, you should be able to improvise a delicious dish without stressing. The only thing that could make these combinations easier is to order your fish online. Ordering from an online seafood market like Daily Fresh Fish actually gets you fish that’s fresher than what you’ll find in the grocery store, and it will come to your door the next day if you order before 2 p.m. At Daily Fresh Fish, the fish is top quality, minimally handled, and sustainably caught or farmed.