Thursday, July 2, 2009

chermoula swordfish

This grilled swordfish, glistening with smoky chermoula marinade, marks the happy conclusion of two years of culinary purgatory.

I first tasted this dish at a friend’s house—a casual summer barbecue that became (because of the swordfish) a seminal life event. I did not request the recipe at the time, convinced that, with a little research, I could recreate the magical chermoula on my own.

Oh, what folly! You see, chermoula is quite mercurial. With no official recipe, this North African blend of herbs and spices is open for endless interpretation and extemporization. (“Every town, every family, has its own special combination,” says Claudia Roden.)

Over the next two years, I discovered chermoula in many new iterations, as a sauce for silky chicken tagine, in a salad of roasted cauliflower, or atop a filet of roasted salmon. The results were always more than satisfactory, but never revelatory—not better than the marinade of my memory.

Purgatory indeed. And my solution? I fear it was very much of the tail-between-my-legs persuasion.

My own efforts thwarted, I went back to the original source, emailing my friend for the recipe. (Did that seem desperate, two years after the fact? Probably.) Three weeks later, armed with some hearty swordfish steaks and a Weber Grill, wary but hopeful, M. and I put it to the test.

And lo, it was good.

It is rare that I discourage culinary improvisation, particularly with such a versatile recipe. But in this case, I'll make an exception. I do believe this is the ultimate chermoula experience.

Chermoula Swordfish
The combination of vinegar and raw garlic makes this marinade particularly pungent; don’t be discouraged.

6 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin, preferably dry roasted and then ground
2 teaspoons smoked, sweet or hot Spanish paprika (preferably hot)
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Four six-ounce swordfish steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Lemon wedges and chopped cilantro, for garnish

In a food processor, combine herbs, vinegar and garlic. With the motor running, add olive oil in a stead stream until the mixture becomes a thick green paste. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in salt, lemon juice, cumin, cayenne and paprika.

In a large Ziploc bag (or a covered bowl) marinate the swordfish in the refrigerator for 1 hour, turning occasionally. Be careful not to marinate the swordfish much longer, or it will begin to break down.

Preheat the grill.

Remove the swordfish steaks from the bag, discarding the remaining marinade. (No need to wipe off the fish itself.) Once the grill is hot, place the fish on the grate and cook approximately 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until done. Remove and serve immediately, with fresh herbs and lemon wedges. [And preferably alongside Goan avocado salad.]

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