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

JB BANNISTER Jan 27, 2014 07:11 AM

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.

  1. JMF Jan 27, 2014 02:09 PM

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

    1. Veggo Jan 27, 2014 02:45 PM

      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: Veggo
        carolinadawg Feb 4, 2014 05:38 AM

        I think the OP has the creative thing covered:


        1. re: carolinadawg
          Veggo Feb 4, 2014 05:43 AM

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

      2. JB BANNISTER Jan 27, 2014 10:14 PM

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

        2 Replies
        1. re: JB BANNISTER
          JMF Jan 27, 2014 10:24 PM


          1. re: JMF
            carolinadawg Feb 4, 2014 05:39 AM

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

        2. Delucacheesemonger Feb 2, 2014 06:35 AM

          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
            JB BANNISTER Feb 4, 2014 05:26 AM

            Do you think injecting flavor would work? Ideas?

            1. re: JB BANNISTER
              Veggo Feb 4, 2014 05:38 AM

              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
                JB BANNISTER Feb 7, 2014 10:48 AM

                This kind of what I was thinking.

          2. k
            knucklesandwich Feb 6, 2014 11:18 AM

            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
              porker Feb 6, 2014 11:24 AM

              "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
                JayL Feb 6, 2014 04:42 PM

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

                Pay no attention to the double neg.

              2. JB BANNISTER Feb 7, 2014 10:47 AM

                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.

                42 Replies
                1. re: JB BANNISTER
                  knucklesandwich Feb 7, 2014 02:27 PM

                  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
                    Veggo Feb 7, 2014 03:03 PM

                    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
                      JayL Feb 7, 2014 07:29 PM

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


                      1. re: knucklesandwich
                        porker Feb 8, 2014 08:09 AM

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

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

                        1. re: porker
                          JB BANNISTER Feb 8, 2014 08:43 AM

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

                          1. re: JB BANNISTER
                            Veggo Feb 8, 2014 09:06 AM

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

                        2. re: knucklesandwich
                          JB BANNISTER Feb 8, 2014 08:45 AM

                          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
                            knucklesandwich Feb 8, 2014 03:28 PM

                            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
                              Veggo Feb 8, 2014 03:44 PM

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

                              1. re: knucklesandwich
                                c oliver Feb 8, 2014 04:04 PM

                                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
                                  porker Feb 8, 2014 05:14 PM

                                  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
                                    c oliver Feb 8, 2014 05:25 PM

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

                                    1. re: c oliver
                                      JB BANNISTER Feb 9, 2014 05:59 PM

                                      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
                                        Veggo Feb 9, 2014 06:06 PM

                                        JB, you reminded me of my early dating years.

                                        1. re: JB BANNISTER
                                          c oliver Feb 9, 2014 06:06 PM

                                          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
                                            JMF Feb 9, 2014 10:43 PM

                                            Wrong, it's a wood cooked masterpiece.

                                            1. re: JMF
                                              c oliver Feb 10, 2014 05:18 AM

                                              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
                                              meatn3 Feb 10, 2014 04:02 PM

                                              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
                                                porker Feb 10, 2014 04:11 PM

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

                                                1. re: meatn3
                                                  Veggo Feb 10, 2014 04:21 PM

                                                  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
                                                    meatn3 Feb 10, 2014 04:30 PM

                                                    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
                                                      Veggo Feb 10, 2014 04:42 PM

                                                      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
                                                        Delucacheesemonger Feb 11, 2014 07:06 AM

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

                                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                                                          Veggo Feb 11, 2014 07:12 AM

                                                          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
                                                    JB BANNISTER Feb 11, 2014 07:25 AM

                                                    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
                                                      meatn3 Feb 11, 2014 07:51 AM

                                                      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
                                                        JB BANNISTER Feb 11, 2014 01:29 PM

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

                                                2. re: JB BANNISTER
                                                  Veggo Feb 9, 2014 06:15 PM

                                                  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
                                              knucklesandwich Feb 8, 2014 05:39 PM

                                              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
                                                c oliver Feb 8, 2014 05:43 PM

                                                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
                                                  knucklesandwich Feb 8, 2014 06:38 PM

                                                  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
                                                    c oliver Feb 8, 2014 06:41 PM

                                                    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
                                                      knucklesandwich Feb 8, 2014 07:32 PM

                                                      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
                                                        c oliver Feb 9, 2014 06:26 AM

                                                        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
                                                          knucklesandwich Feb 9, 2014 07:17 AM

                                                          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
                                                            c oliver Feb 9, 2014 07:21 AM

                                                            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
                                                              knucklesandwich Feb 9, 2014 07:28 AM

                                                              Start with their own website. Have you read it?

                                                              1. re: c oliver
                                                                porker Feb 9, 2014 07:40 AM

                                                                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
                                                                  c oliver Feb 9, 2014 07:52 AM

                                                                  Damn, I missed that section, porker!

                                                                  1. re: c oliver
                                                                    knucklesandwich Feb 9, 2014 08:30 AM

                                                                    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
                                                                    knucklesandwich Feb 10, 2014 01:56 PM

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

                                                                    1. re: porker
                                                                      FattyDumplin 2 days ago

                                                                      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...

                                            4. t
                                              Tom34 Feb 8, 2014 06:02 PM


                                              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. t
                                                Tom34 Feb 8, 2014 06:24 PM

                                                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. MGZ Feb 9, 2014 07:37 AM

                                                  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. a
                                                    AdamD Feb 9, 2014 01:28 PM

                                                    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. f
                                                      fledflew Feb 9, 2014 11:40 PM

                                                      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
                                                        fledflew Feb 12, 2014 11:03 PM

                                                        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
                                                          JB BANNISTER Feb 13, 2014 06:46 AM

                                                          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
                                                            Veggo Feb 13, 2014 06:50 AM

                                                            Baja style swordfish tacos would be very good.

                                                        2. re: JB BANNISTER
                                                          arashall Feb 13, 2014 07:53 AM

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

                                                        3. t
                                                          thimes Feb 13, 2014 09:34 AM

                                                          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: thimes
                                                            Veggo Feb 13, 2014 12:35 PM

                                                            Swordfish al pastor.

                                                            1. re: Veggo
                                                              porker Feb 13, 2014 12:55 PM

                                                              With the pina directly on the bill.

                                                              1. re: porker
                                                                Veggo Feb 13, 2014 01:06 PM


                                                          2. JB BANNISTER about 17 hours ago

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

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