The sight of fresh, vibrant fish always reminds me of the Nice outdoor market in the south of France, where Fiona and I lived for a year on an extended honeymoon. The fishmonger displayed beautiful little Mediterranean rouget (we know it as red snapper), St. Pierre (John Dory), loup de mer (sea bass), and rascasse (scorpion fish) that all looked practically alive they were so fresh. But when I wanted to cook something to remind me of home, the espadon (swordfish) was always my choice. Its slightly pink flesh was cut into such thick chunks, they barely fit on our tiny hibachi.
At one market stall were earthenware crocks with black oil-cured olives so deeply flavored I wanted to make everything with them. There were dark purples and pale greens laced with chile peppers, but it was the Nicoise olives I loved most. Garlic is always close by, as are jars of brined capers. Bottles of oil are in every nook of the market but we filled up our jug from kegs with silver spigots at the corner convenience store. (From another keg, we filled a recycled bottle with very drinkable rose.) With the olives and a hint of anchovy, I made the Provencal condiment, tapenade (the name, which I always thought referred to olives, comes from “tapeno,” Provencal for capers).
The olives are soft and pit easily, but today you can find pitted olives in many stores; you can also use brine-cured Kalamata. Buzz them in a blender with garlic, capers, anchovy, olive oil, and orange rind, and you have a lovely condiment thought to be thousands of years old.
A quick salad of cherry tomatoes, radishes, green beans, and basil with a spoonful of tapenade adds another dimension to the dish.
When buying swordfish to grill, get thick pieces, which will retain their juices; thin cuts will overcook quickly and dry out. I buy one piece, then cut it into fourths, each with a slightly triangular shape. The lean flesh is rather dense and easily takes five minutes on a side. Let it cook undisturbed until it’s ready to flip, so you get a nice crust with grill marks.
During summers here, I sometimes buy fish at the edge of the sea and while the weather is warm, I can pretend I’m back in Provence. Grilling swordfish and adding tapenade and a Nicoise salad almost gets me there.
Gordon Hamersley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org