This Sicilian swordfish with olives and capers is a deliciously bright combination of tender fish in a tomato-based sauce. The slightly briny flavors of the olives and capers contrast with the sweeter onion and tomatoes. And what's more, it's so easy to make.
This post may contain affiliate links, where we earn from qualifying purchases. See more details in the policy page.
As a child, I was lucky enough to visit various places in the Mediterranean on family trips to Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Italy amongst other places. I think I had a sense of how lucky I was to get to see and experience the different places, but probably even more so looking back.
Of course, many of the details of what we did and where we went have faded. However a few things still stand out in my memory, and some of the delicious seafood I had was among them. Swordfish was always one of my favorites and I still really enjoy it.
What is swordfish like?
Swordfish is a relatively large, white-fleshed fish which lives in warm and temperate waters around the world. The name gives away it's very distinguishing feature: it has a large, pointed sword-like bill.
The flesh is relatively meaty in texture and holds together well rather than flaking. This makes it great for making into kebabs, for example. At the same time, the flavor is relatively delicate. Another popular way to serve it is simple grilled swordfish, often served with lemon, and baked swordfish is really easy too.
It is well loved in various Mediterranean countries, Italy among them. Sicily in particular has many swordfish recipes that really show off this lovely, versatile fish. This particular Sicilian dish is a classic, and I can absolutely understand why.
If you have looked around here a bit, you might have figured out that I do have a bit of a soft spot for Sicilian cuisine. Sicily has become quite the melting pot due to its location and as a result, it has seen many influences from different cultures over the years.
The cuisine is also a huge reflection of the crops available on the island and the surrounding waters. You'll find many dishes incorporating citrus, nuts, tomatoes, olives, wild fennel and raisins as well as seafood.
Some examples include pasta alla Norma (with eggplant and tomato), Sicilian-style stuffed squid (with a chard, pine nut and raisin filling), pesto alla Trapanese (with tomato and almonds) and pasta con sarde a mare (with fennel, raisins and pine nuts).
What does pesce spada alla ghioitta mean?
"Pesce spada" is Italian for swordfish and "alla ghiotta" translates as "glutton style" as it is a rich, delicious sauce. Not a description I can particularly argue with!
As well as being popular in Sicily, you will also find this dish in Calabria - the tip of Italy's 'boot', which is the part nearest Sicily.
As with many traditional recipes, you'll find a few variations in this dish, but this recipe uses what tend to be the most consistent ingredients and flavors.
While this is generally a pretty easy, one pan recipe, there are a couple things to watch for. Firstly, as with most fish recipes, you want to watch that you don't overcook the fish.
In general, this is probably more cooking time that I would typically cook swordfish, but it works since the second cook is very low and gently moist thanks to being in the sauce and covered. Make sure you don't cook too long in the initial sear - just a minute or two each side - and then keep the heat low when it's all cooking together.
This is also not a recipe to skimp on the oil. It doesn't really use all that much, but the oil adds to the flavor of the sauce. Make sure to both use the full amount and also use at least virgin olive oil, if not even better, extra virgin olive oil. Using enough oil is also one way to help avoid browning the onions which helps keep the flavor delicate.
Top tip: don't rush the onions
Cooking the onion and celery brings out their sweetness and removes any sourness they might have raw that would distract from the fish. Much as you might be hungry, you need to make sure you give enough time for this to happen.
Once you add the other ingredients, the onion in particular won't soften and sweeten up in the same way. So make sure the onions are translucent before you add anything else.
As well as time, you need to make sure you have enough oil to soften them properly. Too little, and they can burn and become bitter.
Make ahead options
The sauce here doesn't have a huge number of ingredients, and comes together pretty quickly and easily. While it works well to sear the fish then make the sauce and add back the fish to cook it all a little longer together (using just one skillet), you can also flip things around.
You can make the sauce ahead of time and then re-heat it, adding a little extra water if it has become dry. Then just sear the fish and add into the sauce to cook a few minutes more.
What to serve with this Sicilian swordfish
This dish, as with many swordfish recipes, doesn't need a whole lot on the side. Since this recipe has a really delicious sauce, even just some crusty bread will work well to help mop it up. Alternatively, some simple potatoes (eg roasted or pan-fried) would work well.
This Sicilian swordfish with olives and capers is a wonderfully delicious combination of fresh, bright flavors. Nothing is overpowering, just well balanced and a lovely compliment to each other. Plus being quick to make, it's perfect for any time you choose. Enjoy!
Try these other favorite seafood recipes:
- Catalan fish stew (romesco de peix)
- Sardinian fregola with clams
- Goan fish curry
- Plus get more seafood recipes and Italian recipes in the archives.
Sicilian swordfish with olives and capers
- 1 small red onion Tropea, if possible, or 2 small shallots
- 1 stem celery
- 1 lb swordfish in steaks around 1in/2.5cm thick
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper
- 2 medium tomatoes (2 medium is approx 7oz/200g)
- 2 ½ oz pitted green olives (I used castelvetrano)
- 1 oz capers drained
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or virgin olive oil)
- Peel and halve the onion, then cut into thin slices. Cut larger slices in half or smaller, as needed. Halve the celery lengthwise then cut into slices. Finely dice the garlic.
- Cut the swordfish into pieces through the skin so that they are around 2 - 3in wide (5 - 7cm, see photos). Sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper.
- Place the tomatoes in a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water. Prick the tomatoes with the tip of a sharp knife in a few places on different sides then leave a minute or two. Once the skin starts to split and peel back, peel away the skin (you can do this in or out of the water, as suits).
- Roughly chop the tomatoes, removing any tough core as you go. Save all of the juices. Cut the olives into quarters.
- Pick out a skillet/frying pan, ideally non-stick that is large enough to hold all of the pieces of fish with a bit of space around them. You will also need a lid to cover it.
- Warm around half of the oil in the skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat then add the swordfish. Cook for around a minute or two on each side to sear it, but it should still feel slightly soft (and so not cooked right through) inside. Remove the fish from the skillet and set aside.
- Add the onion and celery to the skillet and add the remaining oil. Cook for around 4 - 5 minutes, stirring now and then, until they are softened. Don't let them brown - reduce the heat if they appear to be cooking too quickly and/or add additional oil, if needed.
- Add the garlic, cook a minute, then olives and capers. Stir and cook a minute more, then add the tomatoes and their juices. Stir to mix everything then cook for around 4 - 5 minutes to start to cook down the tomatoes, reducing the heat if needed so that it simmers rather than boils.
- Add back the swordfish, nestling the pieces in the sauce (it is fine if they don't touch the bottom). Add around 1tbsp of water and cover the skillet with a lid. Reduce the heat to low so that the sauce is simmering gently. Leave to cook for around 10 minutes, checking now and then that the sauce hasn't become dry (add a little extra water if needed).
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
I've drawn on a few recipes for this including this recipe.