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Anybody on this board seen or done a WHOLE SWORD FISH over fire?

I need some advice and help. I'm planning on this in May. Any ideas are welcome. I have a great grill already. We do cows on it.

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  1. I saw something about this on a website a year or so ago. Don't have a clue where.

    1. The largest fish I have observed cooked whole was a 3-1/2 ft. redfish in Cozumel, covered with slices of limes, tomatoes, onions, and chilies, lots of achiote, then wrapped in multiple layers of banana leaves. It cooked in a pit of wood coals for some hours, with a combination of heat, steam, and smoke.
      It is difficult to imagine cooking a fish twice that length and 4x the girth over fire, without burning half while the other half is raw. It will require a creative solution to be edible. One option may be to display the whole fish on a long cutting board, then carve and grill swordfish steaks over a span of a few hours.

      2 Replies
        1. re: carolinadawg

          JB is without equal for large critter roasting. The best.

      1. I know that it is done in Florida but the Mods won't let me post on that board.

        2 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            The post was originally posted to the Florida board, but moved to this board by the mods.

        1. The largest piece of swordfish l cooked was a center slice l purchased and cooked in Martha's Vineyard. It was served to 16 guests and weighed @ 5-6 pounds. About 3 inches thick and 18-20 inches wide, barely fit in the largest pan. l butter poached it and it was PERFECT.
          Reason l mentioned this is that swordfish when overcooked gets very tough and very unpleasant and if attempting a whole fish on a grill, just see that as the ultimate result.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Do you think injecting flavor would work? Ideas?

            1. re: JB BANNISTER

              When I grill swordfish I baste it with 50-50 lemon juice and melted butter, with dill and coarse black pepper. Swordfish has it's own delicious flavor, I wouldn't inject anything additional.

              1. re: Veggo

                This kind of what I was thinking.

          2. You didn't say what size fish, or where it's coming from.

            Planning to catch one yourself? Buy one off a long range boat?

            Your plan doesn't sound serious. Stick to cows.

            2 Replies
            1. re: knucklesandwich

              "Your plan doesn't sound serious."
              - I used to think along the same lines when I first read JB. I will never underestimate him again.

              1. re: knucklesandwich

                It wouldn't be prudent to NOT think he is serious.

                Pay no attention to the double neg.

              2. I am shooting for one around 100lbs. I have a supplier that cab get if off a boat in Charleston SC. I will be using the small cow rack. This is the best pic I have of it. It will need the least modifications.
                I'm serious.

                Anyone can cook one whole, I just want to cook it well.

                I'm doing this on May 16-17th so I have time to plan.

                44 Replies
                1. re: JB BANNISTER

                  That means you're planning to start with a frozen, headless (and presumably thawed and butterflied) fish. Quality aside, I can't see it turning out well; the fat distribution in swordfish and proportions of the body mass pretty much guarantee uneven cooking.

                  If you actually like eating fish you'd be much better off buying a whole lot of fresh, farmed atlantic salmon, which loves being grilled. If you want to go all yee-ha, cook an ostrich or something.

                  1. re: knucklesandwich

                    A whole fresh head-on swordfish on a long cutting board is a beautiful thing. I have nice memories of Cappy in his little market asking how thick we wanted our steak, growing up in CT. I have no doubt that JB can make that happen.

                    1. re: knucklesandwich

                      <That means you're planning to start with a frozen, headless (and presumably thawed and butterflied) fish.>


                      1. re: knucklesandwich

                        "...cook an ostrich or something..."

                        They already did emu, I'd think ostrich is kinda redundant.

                        1. re: porker

                          I did emu because Ostrich is insanely expensive. Anybody want to donate one I have a great idea for it.

                          1. re: JB BANNISTER

                            You may get a pair of full quill boots and a belt and wallet out of it....

                        2. re: knucklesandwich

                          Farm raised salmon? You jest. The sword fish will be have be fresh no problem.

                          Farm raised?......

                          And an ostrich is on the list just need $$$$

                          1. re: JB BANNISTER

                            Here's the thing, JB: the farmed salmon is lipid-rich throughout its muscle mass, which makes it harder to overcook on the grill. The swordfish is dry in the "loin" area, fattier underneath, and hard to grill evenly unless it's cut into steaks.

                            And farmed salmon is reliably fresh. Swordfish isn't. Commercial longlining boats go on long range trips, freeze the fish carcasses, and the thawed fish are sold as fresh.

                            I realize the salmon may not be your style, but the whole- swordfish idea isn't practical. You know they're endangered and loaded with mercury; why make an extravagant gesture out of cooking a whole one (badly)?

                            1. re: knucklesandwich

                              You need to know JB. It's go big or don't go.

                              1. re: knucklesandwich

                                Swordfish IS high in mercury but mostly isn't endangered at least according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.


                                But, yeah, I'd go for quality rather than another notch on the best :


                                ETA: oops, meant to write "belt" rather than "best."

                                1. re: knucklesandwich

                                  knuckle, no disrespect, but are you aware of JB's exploits and work behind the Bovinova series?

                                  Salmon (farmed or otherwise) is not in line with what they do.

                                  I'm guessing that JB has done his homework and will not use some dumbass, commercial, previously frozen, decapitated carcass.
                                  It also does not seem to be simply an extravagent gesture. Exotic? Perhaps. Merely a gesture? I don't think so.

                                  1. re: porker

                                    I've just wondered at times if it's really about the Chow?

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      More than just the chow. I am at my happiest when I am giving someone a positive experience that they have never had before nor even knew existed,

                                      1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                        JB, you reminded me of my early dating years.

                                        1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                          IMO, there is nothing MORE than JUST the CHOW:) "Never had before"? "Never even knew existed"? I'm guessing most CHs have had swordfish...if they wanted to. It's just dinner, right?

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Wrong, it's a wood cooked masterpiece.

                                            1. re: JMF

                                              Sorry, JMF, I wasn't clear at all. It seems from what I've read here that cutting up the fish prior to cooking is going to produce a more properly cooked dish, whereas doing the whole one is going to have a lot of inconsistency. So, for me anyway, the quality is more important than the flashiness.

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              I attended the event last year. I'd venture to say that a very, very small segment of attendees had ever heard of CH.

                                              Yes, the manner of cooking was a major part of the show. But those prepping and cooking were very aware of flavor and proper degree of doneness. There were several dishes that I really couldn't imagine how they could pull it off and I expected to be chewing on jerky. But pull it off they did! Meat was moist and succulent and delicious.

                                              I did miss the emu though...it was one of the last items served over two days. I reached the point where I had had my fill of meat and just needed to go get a nice big salad someplace!

                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                There you go JB, maybe a ginormous salad served in an overturned VW bug?

                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                  JB's Bacchanalian feasts are cutting edge in the US. I have friends in Texas with a nice plane who frequently fly to Charleston for a weekend to eat- I'm trying to persuade them to pick me up in Florida and we'll hit a Bannister bash instead!

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    If you can't persuade them jump in your car. You can be there in under 12 hours - enough time to build up a good appetite!

                                                    1. re: meatn3

                                                      You have given me a good idea for a field trip. I used to live in Columbia (Harbison) and I haven't visited in many years.

                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                        Will fly to Charleston for Husk and McCrady's/ or to Owensboro, KY for mutton BBQ.

                                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                          Numerous times my friends have called me from Husk and really stick it in my face that they are there and I'm not. I really think it enhances their experience.

                                                  2. re: meatn3

                                                    Thank you for the compliments. I'm flattered. Emu is just like sirloin steak to me. Lets see how I do with the whole alligator I have ordered.

                                                    1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                      Your team really did a bang up job of the entire thing. Extremely well organized. Looking forward to hearing how the new beasties fare!

                                                      Note: How many times in life can you say you left before the emu was served?! I wish I had tried it but I was just fried by that point.

                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                        This year will be better organized. The old problems will be fixed. So we can work on the new ones.

                                                2. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                  A slice of fish on a plate is a forgettable meal. Mano a mano with a whole swordfish is a memory maker. I applaud your spirit, like you're a modern Hemingway. Keep it going, pal!

                                            3. re: knucklesandwich

                                              I saw the website, and I get the cow stuff no problem.

                                              The frozen issue is a cold fact, swordfishwise. Real, fresh fish is incredibly hard to find, and there's no way anyone could guarantee to sell one (let alone a BIG one) in advance. Most swordfish lovers have never tasted fresh swordfish.

                                              And the Monterey Bay Aquarium is NOT trustworthy on sustainability. Their guidelines are reckless and misleading, and the aquarium takes "donations" from commercial fishing and dining businesses. Sorry you had to hear it from me first.

                                              1. re: knucklesandwich

                                                Regardng the MB Aquarium, could you give some citations to support that please? MANY of us buy quite specifically based on their website.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Glad you asked. They break commercial seafood into 3 categories: "Avoid", "Good Alternative", and "Best Choice".

                                                  It's the middle category that smells fishy. Everything there is unsustainable, mostly due to harvesting methods. Dragging. Longlining. Not good alternatives. Not alternatives at all.

                                                  Almost everything in that safe-sounding "Good Alternative" category is important commercially, and belongs in "Avoid".

                                                  For more on their business relationships with the commercial fishing and restaurant industries, read the rest of their website.

                                                  1. re: knucklesandwich

                                                    Sorry that you didn't understand me. I'm looking for reputable citations supporting that accusation. I did a cursory search after posting and can't find anything.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      You want reputable citations that tuna (most species), and swordfish are endangered species? That dragging, dredging and longlining are unsustainable?

                                                      Start with the Wikipedia page on ICCAT, and branch out from there.

                                                      1. re: knucklesandwich

                                                        Here's current info on Northern Atlantic swordfish:


                                                        This discussion isn't about tuna.

                                                        I'm asking for citations on THIS actually:

                                                        "And the Monterey Bay Aquarium is NOT trustworthy on sustainability. Their guidelines are reckless and misleading, and the aquarium takes "donations" from commercial fishing and dining businesses. "

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          If you did even a "cursory search" you'd know that ICCAT manages broadbill swordfish too.

                                                          ICCAT, NRDC, the MBA and the assorted commercial fishing organizations are all part of the same problem.

                                                          And please read the rest of MBA's website.

                                                          1. re: knucklesandwich

                                                            I'll ask politely yet again and then move on. I'm looking for facts about this:

                                                            ""And the Monterey Bay Aquarium is NOT trustworthy on sustainability. Their guidelines are reckless and misleading, and the aquarium takes "donations" from commercial fishing and dining businesses. ""

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              Start with their own website. Have you read it?

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                I'm not interested in reading the website, but I assume from knuckle's continual response that if I *were* to read it, the MBA website will cite:
                                                                "We are NOT trustworthy, our guidelines are reckless and misleading. We take donations from commercial fishing and dining businesses."

                                                                Wheres that EASY button?

                                                                1. re: porker

                                                                  Damn, I missed that section, porker!

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Sorry,chow-world, for taking the thread so far off course.

                                                                    co&porker, if you ever do decide to read MBA's website, you will find that MBA doesn't believe swordfish and tuna are endangered, encourages consumers to buy longlined, dredged, and trawled species, and eagerly "partners" with commercial fishing and restaurant organizations.

                                                                    JB, good luck with your cookout. I really hope you leave the broadbills alone.

                                                                  2. re: porker

                                                                    Also, the UBC Fisheries Centre (look for stuff by DR. Daniel Pauly) , and the World Wildlife Fund. And Greenpeace.

                                                                    1. re: porker

                                                                      i have no skin in the game here, but figured i'd check the MBA website... They definitely partner with commercial fishing and dining businesses - although in my opinion, that's not necessarily a good or bad thing as i'm sure there are good and bad such businesses. They also seem to be generally supportive of longlining / trawling, so that's a personal view as to whether that guideline is "reckless" / "misleading". What I thought was interesting is their definition of "good alternative" - "These items are an option, but there are concerns with how they're caught or farmed-or with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts." That to me doesn't really read like a good alternative to me. Anyhoo...

                                                                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                                                                        Finally someone actually checked out the site. Thank you, FD.

                                                                        Using MBA as an authority on sustainable fishing is like using Sea World as an authority on captive Orcas.

                                                                        1. re: knucklesandwich

                                                                          i love to learn. and when you raised the point about "good alternative" not being a good alternative, i was curious to see for myself. learn something new every day.

                                            4. John,

                                              I have not cooked a whole one but I have cleaned quite a few. The biggest challenge is going to be dealing with a low mass tail end and a high mass gill end. Insulating fire brick under the tail end for 1/2 the cook may help.

                                              If the head is still attached, look for bright red gills (not brown) and glass eyes (not foggy). If its headless & gutted stick your head in there and smell the hell out of the cavity. If you keep smelling because something just doesn't smell right, move on. Old Sword is not good Sword. Its one thing to milk soak an old loin, but its pretty unfeasible to milk soak a whole fish absent a Saturday night galvanized tub and a shit load of milk. :-)

                                              1. Sword is not necessarily the mildest tasting fish. Who ever your getting it from may throw a Mahi Mahi in for next to nothing which might be good to have on hand for certain guests. I have eaten grilled M/M w/lemon & butter a couple hours after catching it.......outstanding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                1. I've never done it, but I've caught, cleaned, and cooked more than a few swordfish over the years. At first, I looked upon the endeavor as more novelty than anything. I then realized that it is actually incredibly simple to make the "whole" thing good eats.

                                                  Butterfly the beast. Put it in a rack so you can flip it a few times - basting at each flip (I'd go citrus, lipid, and spice). It really shouldn't take all that long over direct heat,* and you wouldn't want it too far past medium rare.

                                                  Fundamentally, it's no different than cooking a butterflied chicken. I think the coals will need to be hotter under the thicker portions of the fish - makes a hill in the center with coals. Ultimately, the biggest problem, from the start, with this entire idea, is how to evenly cook a really uneven mass of flesh. An uneven fire solves that problem.

                                                  *Slow, indirect cooking won't really turn out so great since there is no collagen to break down.

                                                  1. Never attempted such a feat, but I would think a rotisserie would be great.

                                                    And I agree with the commenter that mentioned the tail end will cook much faster.

                                                    I think the idea of a spit roasted whole swordfish is awesome! Maybe wrap it in bacon to give it a little extra fat.

                                                    Good luck and cant wait to see the pics.

                                                    1. I have never seen a whole swordfish cooked over a fire. That being said, I would think that the cow rack that you're going to utilize might need the gaps between the grates reduced to reduce the possibility of the fish falling apart and through the holes as you turn it during cooking. This would depend on the cow rack itself, of course. You could accomplish this by lining the cow rack with a metal mesh or maybe a bed of woody herbs (something like rosemary??).
                                                      As mentioned above. an uneven bed of coals would address the issue of variance in meat thickness.
                                                      It may be advantageous to serve the whole fish several different ways after it comes off the fire. Mix some sort of mango or pineapple salsa with the shredded meat that comes from the tail section because it may be more cooked and not as moist. It could be served with chips the same way you'd serve a ceviche. The large chunks of moist meat near the head might do well over a bed of greens with a vinaigrette type dressing. The middle section put into flour tortillas to make tacos.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                        Sweet and spicy glaze sounds great. For the volume that you're dealing with, the quantities of gourmet jelly can get pretty expensive though. Maybe buy a bunch of apricot or raspberry jam from Costco as a base and doctor it up with pureed jalapenos, chipotles, herbs, some champagne, and wine vinegar for the glaze.
                                                        I think a very liquidy salsa (I'm thinking pico de gallo with lots of lime juice and salt to draw out the tomato moisture) would do well to moisten any dried parts of the fish.
                                                        Would you be opposed to turning any of the cooked fish into a second dish like swordfish enchiladas?

                                                        1. re: fledflew

                                                          I like serving stuff with fresh made tortillas. We have a place local that makes them in volume and are really good.

                                                          1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                            Baja style swordfish tacos would be very good.

                                                        2. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                          Wow! This is sounding fabulous! I wish you much success! Please share pictures and results after the big event.

                                                        3. I read this thread this morning and have to say - I've never done it nor have I ever seen it done . . . . so this is more of a "thought" than any sort of recommendation . . . . and it is part cooking application and part showmanship . . .

                                                          I'm wondering if you need a different cooking device for this. Fish doesn't cook like a whole cow - so you're not going to have it on the grill for hours as people walk by all day. . . it is a different - so I think a different contraption might be better.

                                                          I'm wondering if you can make something that looks more like a gyro cooker - with the swordfish spinning in the middle of it on it's head (or head up depending on how you make it). You could even make a custom spit for it that has the fins replicated in metal to help accentuate the swordfish-ness of the whole thing - even before the fish is placed.

                                                          This method could also help with the uneven nature of a whole fish of that size. You could build some sort of cage for the heat and if you tapered the cage you could help control where the fire is hotter (i.e. the head end).

                                                          You may have to wrap the fish is some sort of chicken wire just to help hold it all together - but swordfish doesn't flake apart as much as other fish . . . and you could stuff it with herbs and lemons and some fat to help baste it from the inside as it is cooking . . . .

                                                          Anyway - just a thought for presentation and a way to help create a graduated heat source to help.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                              With the pina directly on the bill.

                                                          1. We will find out if I can do it. I just ordered it off.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: JB BANNISTER

                                                              Very interested in hearing how this turns out. I hope you have a copy of Francis Mallmann's "Seven Fires" on your nightstand because any Guru of BBQ nuckin futty enough to try this will really enjoy that book.
                                                              I think the challenge for you will be to slow cook the fish if you really want to do it whole. I'm assuming the 100# is H&G.
                                                              Swordfish is an odd beast. Very dense flesh but not at all forgiving if you over cook. If you'll forgive the pun I think therein lies the "rub". It will be a challenge not to overcook the exterior before the fish is done internally. As odd as it may sound to some this is an instance where I would prefer a fish that has been previously frozen due to the worms that swordfish often have.
                                                              I wish you luck with your venture. I have to say it's quite a challenge. I think I'd be very temped to dig a pit and build an Imu .

                                                              1. re: TraderJoe

                                                                I think JB would be more tempted to build a fire and cook an emu!

                                                            2. I don't think it's a good idea. I never tried to cook a whole swordfish (you do realize they're huge, right?), but when I lived where swordfish was cheap (Hawaii), I tried thin steaks, inch-or-so thick steaks, kabobs, and big hunks, sort of like a roast. Eventually I settled on thick steaks as the easiest to handle and serve. I mostly grilled them Sicilian-style after marinating in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, fresh oregano and/or mint, salt and pepper.

                                                              It's not like roasting a whole pig or sheep or turkey. Those varmints hold together pretty well after being cooked, and the meat is easily sliced off to serve. Fishes tend to disintegrate.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: emu48

                                                                Did you happen to see any of JBs previous posts or followed any of the Bovinova accounts? JB seems to do what you and I might not think a good idea!
                                                                I'm just wondering what this addition to Bovinoche might be called? Osteichthylooza? Istiophoridalama?

                                                              2. http://eater.com/archives/2014/07/17/...

                                                                hope that link works
                                                                publican restaurant attempted this feat

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      That's a sizable loss for us. Can't say I blame him. I've seen posts of his deleted frequently - posts where I really feel the only reason they were removed was because he was the poster. Once the mods get focused on someone things can get vigilant to the point of vigilantly.

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        I did not realize JB left. Felt like doing so many times myself. Big loss to us all as he was a doer and spoke from experience, not cut and paste internet want to be crap.

                                                                        1. re: Tom34

                                                                          I also am sorry that he left... I never got the sense he was promoting his event here, but rather legitimately seeking advice for his amazing cookouts.