Foray to the fish shop: Swordfish

History and tradition of fish from our seas, from catching to the market: how to recognize fresh fish?

Is there anything better than a fish dinner with a glass of cool white wine? For food lovers this could be one of their top meals. But how do you choose the best fish from the shop, and how do you know if it is really fresh?

This is the first article of a series dedicated to forays to the fish shop, to learn how to recognise fresh fish, compare prices and discover something more about the species that we put on our tables. Let’s begin our journey with the unmistakable musketeer of the seas: elegant, suspicious and lethal, swordfish is one of the classic fish used in cooking.

Xiphias Glaudius:


Xiphias Glaudius, commonly known as swordfish is a common species in temperate climates, and is widespread in the Mediterranean. So widespread that in southern Italy for most of the 1900s, many people survived on catching this prized fish. Even some artefacts from the Bronze Age show early attempts at catching swordfish all that time ago.


In addition to commercial fishing, swordfish is a desirable catch for sports fishermen because of its combativeness and the jumps it makes out of the water once it is hooked.


Traditional fishing:


Practiced above all in Calabria and Sicily in the area of the Messina Strait, tradition swordfish fishing is a technique that is respectful of the species and particularly complex for the fishermen. The boats used were called Spatare or Feluche, with a tall yard about 20 metres high, from where the “lookout” searches the sea looking for the fish. Swordfish are surface hunters and because of this reason they can be seen by fishermen, who make a very complex maneuver to reach them.


Phases of swordfish fishing in the Messina Strait:


On the long bowsprit the “harpooner” is ready to handle his weapon as soon as the fish is within striking distance, prepared with strength and precision, an operation which is undoubtedly difficult. The impact on the species is minimal, as is the profit. For this reason, this traditional method is done only for tourists in a few areas of the South.


Fish stinks from the head:


There are a number of certain criteria to recognise fresh swordfish. The first rule is to stay away from those on the table that no longer have their head attached to the body: a clear sign that the fish has not been fished on the day and the seller has eliminated the head which is the part that deteriorates the fastest. Its eye is another important element: it must be bright and not have an opaque grey colour. You should be able to see yourself reflected in the fish’s eye. Lastly the flesh, it must be pink and with no sign of grey. It is best to choose specimens which aren’t too big, as older fish can contain high levels of mercury.


The average price for swordfish is around 25 euros per kilo, with extremes of 50 or reductions to 15, but this happens more often in the south of Italy.


Mauro Giuffrè


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