Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Surf Meets Turf

Swordfish fillets, stovetop seared, then baked with lemon and a hint of butter, before being finished with a broth enriched sauce with lemon and tequila.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

Tequila and swordfish.  Two heavy hitters.  Who could have guessed they’d be such great pairing partners?

Tequila’s prickly agave plant versus a voracious predator. 

It may only sound like the makings of a classic sci-fi disaster flick, but once they share a plate together, you'll be surprised at how well these two colossals really do get along.

So let's begin with our friendly carnivore with the gladiatorial Latin name – Xiphias Gladius.  Gladius, which means “sword” in Latin, is one big fish, tipping the scales at 1400 pounds of dense, white muscle meat.

Strong, sleek and huge, Gladius is a hunter by trade who ignores most boundaries, freely scouring the oceans for his prey worldwide.  Prowling the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean, he’s the thousand pound gorilla who swims wherever he pleases.

And if it wasn't for man, Gladius would almost be worry free, since the only other predators with enough teeth to take him on are the largest of sharks and killer whales.  And that's saying a lot, since the irony is, adult swordfish are predators that have no teeth.  But believe me, the tooth fairy isn't shedding any tears, because who needs teeth when you’ve got a sword that's long and razor-sharp.

And with a sword this ferocious, they’re powerful fighters, which also makes them popular with sports fishermen who need to fight with their food before they can eating it.  But the sword and their size aren't their only impressive features, for that white muscle I mentioned previously, allows them to really step on the gas when the dinner bell rings.  When pursuing prey, they can reach speeds of up to 50 mph, which means, if they're out on the prowl, you'd better get out of their way.

Plus, as to be expected, they have terrific eyesight, which has been improved with a unique biological twist.  Since they can't maintain body temperatures higher than the surrounding waters, they’ve developed an organ to warm the blood flowing to both their eyes and their brain.  And with this built-in anti-freeze, they can hunt prey in the depths of the ocean, where the water temperature hovers around freezing at 2000 feet.

Now, although swordfish may hunt prey at temperatures at or near freezing, it’s definitely not the temperature you’ll want to serve our second colossus – tequila. 

Often distilled to 76-80 proof, it can also be produced at 110, which, as you can imagine, can create quite a kick.  Made near the city of Tequila in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, this product of the blue agave plant holds the record of an agave love affair that can be traced straight back to the Aztecs, who were making their own happy fermented beverage from the agave, long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. 

But once the Spanish made landfall and later drank through all their own brandy, that Aztec beverage they’d previously sneered at began looking pretty good.  And with a number of alterations and some distilling prowess, one of North America's first indigenous distilled spirits was born.

To create tequila, the succulent core of the agave plant (called a piña) must be harvested and then slowly baked to produce sugars that can be fermented, then they’re shredded or mashed to extract their juice.  The juice is then distilled twice, after being fermented, with the resulting product being a clear tequila called “Plata” or "Silver".

The tequila many cherish today comes in five varieties: 
"Plata” or “Blanco” ("Silver" or "White") is unaged tequila, that's been bottled directly after being distilled, while "Joven” or "Oro” ("Young" or "Gold") is simply a Blanco that’s colored and flavored with caramel.

The tequilas which spend time in oak are “Reposado” ("Rested"), “Añejo” ("Aged") and "Extra Añejo” (“Extra Aged”), which are aged less than a year, less than 3 years and at least 3 years, respectively.

And as you'd expect of their flavors, the "Blanco” is harsher than the ones aged in wood, which become amber in color as well as smoother and more complex. 

For my recipe, I chose a Tequila “Oro," because its subtle note of caramel added complexity to the Lemon Tequila Sauce that accompanies this dish.  For when creating that sauce, the “Oro’s” caramel blends with the pan juice’s natural caramelization, crafting a sauce not only herbal, but both rich and very deep. 

And with the tequila, it's also a sauce that stands up to the swordfish’s dense and meaty texture, and is a satisfying accompaniment to this steak of the sea.

So, this is how two heavy hitters can end up on one plate, where surf meets turf, for one great taste.


Serves 2

2 swordfish fillets (1 pound each)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (cold, cubed)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

Lemon Tequila Sauce:
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
½ cup tequila
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400°F and set rack to mid-oven.
Combine Lemon Tequila Sauce in a bowl and set aside.
Pat fillets dry with paper towels, then salt and pepper both sides of swordfish.

Add olive oil to an ovenproof skillet set over high heat.
When oil is hot (surface ripples), add fish, searing briefly (15-20 seconds per side).
Remove skillet from heat and divide cubed butter & lemon juice evenly between fillets.
Slide hot skillet into oven and bake about 8 minutes, until fish reaches an internal temperature of 140°F (fish will be opaque and flake easily with fork).

After baking, place fish on plate and return hot skillet to stovetop burner set to high.
Add Lemon Tequila Sauce, scraping pan to deglaze, then reduce sauce by half and pour over swordfish.

Serve with wild rice or a wild rice/brown rice blend, accompanied by lemon wedges.

Now, here’s a peek at the pairing coming up next – 

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