Swordfish Acqua Pazza

Acqua Pazza literally translates to Crazy Water; it refers to the rustic Italian method of poaching fish in a spicy tomato broth. Whole fish or fillets can be used, and ingredients vary, but it is a perfect seafood dish to transition into fall. I like to make my acqua pazza almost as a deconstructed stew. Swordfish fillets work well for this meal, or any fish that comes in a nice steak-cut, as opposed to a flakier fish (like sole or tilapia). It's one of the best things I've made in a while... the broth from the stewed tomatoes carries a bit of heat to the Israeli couscous, the crisp texture of the sautéed fennel meats the briny capers, one side of the fillet is seared but the fish is so tender.

Swordfish Acqua Pazza
Two main course servings

  • 4 medium ripe beefsteak tomatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 rib of celery, thinly sliced
  • 5-6 cilantro stems
  • twine
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup Israeli couscous
  •  1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced
  • Oil, canola or sunflower ideally
  • 2 steaks of Swordfish
  • capers
  • About 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, make an ice bath of cold water in a separate bowl. Trim the stems of the tomatoes and cut a shallow X on the bottom of each. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then immediately in the ice bath. Peel the skins off (the X helps in this). Dice the tomatoes, and dump the water from the saucepan. Heat oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, sweat the vegetables for about 3 minutes. Sweat is similar to saute, but is a preliminary cooking step before a stew or braise, saute can be a solo cooking process. Sweating helps draw out moisture and flavor from the aromatics (garlic, onions, shallots, celery etc). Tie the cilantro stems into a bundle with twine (see photo). Add the blanched tomatoes, cayenne, pinch of salt and cilantro bundle along with 2 cups of water. Simmer for 1 hour uncovered, stirring occasionally. Once the tomatoes are stewed, turn off heat, remove cilantro bundle and cover. 
 Skim one cup of broth from the tomatoes and add to 1 cup of water in another sauce pan. Bring this to a boil, lower heat and add couscous. Turn off heat and cover for 8-10 minutes, fluff the couscous, keep cooked couscous covered to stay warm. 
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Add oil to two skillets or saute pans, place one over medium-high heat, one medium.  In the medium heated pan, add the fennel and saute for roughly 8 minutes, or until golden and soft. Season the fish with salt & pepper on both sides. In the other pan, sear ONE side of the swordfish without crowding the pan (this will steam the fish if they are too close), do one at a time if needed. This should take roughly 3 minutes. Turn off heat for both pans: flip fish to other side, spoon some stewed tomatoes (and broth), cherry tomatoes, capers, sautéed fennel, and a pinch of salt to the skillet/pan. Place in the oven and cook for roughly 15 minutes (check fish for doneness). Spoon couscous on a plate and top with a piece of fish and the acqua pazza mixture. 

And now your lesson for the day...As consumers, it is our responsibility to shop responsibly. The issues of sustainable seafood might not be as clear as say buying hormone free beef or organic eggs.

Here's a few guidelines:
1. Look for a label MSC certified (Marine Stewardship Council), this is an easy way to see that the fish comes from a sustainable source, Whole Foods is a good option to shop
2. Look for terms like "Diver Caught" "Line/Hook Caught" "Day Boat Caught": this all means that the fisher's did not take the short cut of dredging the ocean with huge nets. Dredging is just a careless way to get the greatest yield with no regard to the environmental impacts. These nets not only catch the desired fish, but also tons of other ocean life that will get killed in the process- ex: turtles, sharks, skates etc. The biggest issue is these huge nets, often the size of a football field, will destroy the ocean floor in its path; ruining delicate coral reefs, plants, and marine habitats. If you live in Philly, the wonderful folks at Ippolito's can help explain the terminology for the sourcing of their seafood.
3. Routinely check the Fish Watch to see what species of fish are struggling. Here is another source broken down by fishing regions in the US. For this recipe, buy North Atlantic Swordfish not an imported Swordfish. The biomass of the North Atlantic swordfish are starting to rebuild and recover, meaning this fish is not currently overfished.
4. Do not buy "Farm Raised": the movie, The End of the Line, shed a lot of light on this issue for me. In concept, it seems like a good idea, but the amount of live fish needed to sustain these farm fish is incredible. For farm raised salmon, it takes 3 lbs. of wild anchovies or sardines to yield 1 lb of farm raised salmon. You do the math.
5. When buying whole fish, the eyes should be clear not red or bloodshot, and the fish should be on ice, not a fridge (which dries out the skin). Buy your fish on the day of use.

I don't like to be preachy about my beliefs with food, and I am not telling you don't eat seafood. Just open your eyes, educate yourself. It's a fucking scary issue at hand, the least you can do is pay a little more and shop responsibly.