By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Being of a practical nature, I’m loath to cook something twice if once will suffice. But there are exceptions, and the supple, silky eggplant in this elegant swordfish dish is one of them.
My plan was to cook cubes of late-season eggplant until they collapsed into a velvety heap — each piece barely maintaining its integrity — and to use that as a bed for buttery, wine-simmered swordfish.
Sautéing the eggplant in batches would have gotten me there — eventually. But unless I cranked the heat and used enough oil to actually fry the pieces, it would have taken forever, and it would have been tricky to keep the eggplant from steaming and stewing rather than browning.
Instead, it’s much faster and easier to spread the cubes on a sheet pan and run them under the broiler — or toss them on the grill, if that’s your thing. Yes, this requires a second cooking method, and another pan if you’re broiling. But the payoff in flavor is huge. The extreme direct heat allows the eggplant to brown deeply on all sides, concentrating its juices and lending a caramelized note — in under 10 minutes.
After the broiling, once the eggplant is browned, tender and glistening, resist the urge to gobble it up directly off the baking pan. Instead, cook it again in a heady mix of diced tomatoes and onions. This both sweetens and softens it, turning each cube into a plush little pillow bursting with flavor.
For its part, the swordfish provides some necessary contrast, both in its firm, meaty texture and tangy, saline flavor, imbued with garlic, capers and olives.
A splash of wine — preferably the same one you’re planning to drink with dinner — moistens the mixture and adds brightness. I’ve made this with both white wine and a bone-dry rosé, and, honestly, it’s hard to tell the difference once it mingles with all the aromatics in the pan. Use what you’ve got; even a light, sprightly red would do the trick. Just avoid jammy, fruit-bomb reds that could hog the stage.
If you’d rather not use swordfish, you could also make this with tuna or cod, or even boneless chunks of chicken breast. When you’ve got twice-cooked eggplant that’s this good, there’s plenty of wiggle room with the protein. Which makes this dish rather practical, after all.
Recipe: Swordfish With Caramelized Eggplant and Capers
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (any kind will work)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine or rosé (or use chicken or vegetable broth)
- 2 tablespoons chopped, pitted Castelvetrano or other green olives
- 1 tablespoon drained capers
- 1 1/2 pounds swordfish, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (see tips below)
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Torn basil leaves, for garnish
- Lemon or lime juice, to taste (optional)
1. Set a broiler rack 4 inches from the heat source and heat the broiler. If grilling, heat your grill.
2. In a large bowl or on a rimmed baking sheet, toss eggplant with just enough oil to coat, and season with salt. Broil or grill until golden all over and charred in spots, 2 to 4 minutes per side.
3. As eggplant broils, or after you’ve grilled it, heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons oil, and, when it’s hot, add onion and a pinch of salt. Sauté until onion is lightly browned in spots and soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water, and simmer until the tomato breaks down and turns saucy, about 5 minutes. If the pan starts to dry out, add a splash of water.
5. Add eggplant to the pan, along with a drizzle of oil, and turn heat to medium-low. Cook until the mixture is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and season with more salt, if needed, and plenty of pepper. Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggplant mixture to a bowl and set aside. Raise heat to medium.
6. Without wiping out the pan, add butter and let it melt. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine, olives, capers and a small pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Add swordfish, and let cook, gently turning the pieces with a spoon so they don’t fall apart, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.
7. Return eggplant mixture to the pan and gently stir in parsley. Heat until the mixture bubbles, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with basil leaves and a squeeze of lemon or lime, if you like, and serve immediately.
When buying swordfish — and this goes for any fish — always seek out the most sustainable options. (If unsure, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is an excellent resource.)
And to Drink …
Swordfish is the sort of meaty seafood that will happily accommodate red wine. Even in this dish, with caramelized eggplant, you could serve a red, as long as it is not too heavy or oaky. But for me, the combination of garlic, fresh tomatoes, olives and capers cries out for a white, with the same stipulation against weight and oak. A Soave would be lovely, as would many Italian whites. A good sauvignon blanc would go well, and you could certainly try a grüner veltliner or a Muscadet. Dry rosé, too, would fit well. If you do want a red, I would opt for a lively frappato or Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Sicily, a Valpolicella or maybe even a blaufränkisch from Austria or Germany.
— Eric Asimov