Smoked Swordfish

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Smoked swordfish, smoked marlin, or really any big, meaty fish, is a fantastic way to eat these big chunks of meat — as an appetizer or main meal, depending on what you do with it. And this recipe has a backstory.

Smoked swordfish on a cutting board.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I can hear you: Why bother with smoked swordfish? It’s already the primo fish to grill, and do I need another method? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

It’s meaty, almost beefy in a way, and if done right, the fish stays juicy. Big fish like swordfish, marlin or tuna are also more savory than, say, perch or trout.

For me, it all started in Mexico. This recipe and method was inspired by all the smoked marlin I’ve eaten on my trips to Baja California and Baja Sur. It’s a thing there, and that’s what sent me down this road.

Tacos de marlin, marlin machaca, marlin burritos, smoked marlin stuffed into roasted chiles, you name it, the bajacalifornios and sudcalifornios make it. I’ve asked around, and smoked swordfish is largely considered the equivalent and is used interchangeably.

Ahumadora del Pacifico in Ensenada, Baja.
Photo by Hank Shaw

I finally got to see how at least one place makes their smoked marlin (as well as smoked yellowtail and tuna) when I visited Ahumadora Del Pacifico in Ensenada, Baja.

Fish smoking over manzanita coals in Ensenada, Baja.
Photo by Hank Shaw

Every day they smoke fish, almost always big, meaty fish, out back over embers of manzanita or mesquite wood. Almost all their inventory sells out each day, for those aforementioned tacos, tostadas, etc.

I bought a big chunk of marlin and brought home the portion we didn’t eat as a snack; more on that in another post.

Later, I got a large hunk of swordfish from my friends at E-Fish, and I knew I needed to make some smoked swordfish to mimic the marlin — it’s way easier to buy swordfish in the United States than marlin, unless you live in Hawaii, where it’s also a thing.

How to Make Smoked Swordfish

I don’t know how Ahumadora Del Pacifico salts their fish, but I do have a very good method for salting big chunks of fish before smoking: Heavy salting for a short period.

It’s easy: Really lay on the salt — you can even bury the fish in salt if you want — for 1 hour per pound of fish. And that’s per piece, so if you have a 2-pound piece of fish, 2 hours. A half-pound piece of fish, 30 minutes.

Rinse, pat dry, then let the fish dry some more to form the pellicle, a stick-tacky film on the outside that helps smoke adhere, then smoke away.

I was looking for a Mexican flavor, so I went with mesquite, which is strong-tasting. If that’s not the goal, use a milder wood like alder or maple or apple.

Keep the temperatures low, below 200°F, and smoke for several hours. I prefer to go a full 4 hours, and if you can keep the temperature below 170°F, you can go as long as 5 or 6 hours. The Mexican smoked marlin is very smoky.

A block of smoked marlin in Ensenada, Baja.
Photo by Hank Shaw

How to Use Smoked Swordfish

Once you have some, use your smoked swordfish, marlin or tuna or yellowtail or amberjack in any Mexican dish calling for smoked marlin, marlin ahumado, or slice it — yes, it’s meaty enough to be sliced with a sharp knife — and eat it on a cracker or by itself.

If you are used to smoked sturgeon, they are very, very close, so you can use them interchangeably.

I also like eating it hot, right out of the smoker, over a green salad.

It’s so meaty it won’t flake like, say, smoked salmon, smoked sablefish or smoked lake trout, but you can chunk it up for dishes like English fish pie, or Vietnamese smoked fish salad.

Once made, smoked swordfish will keep a week in the fridge, and it freezes well.

Closeup of smoked swordfish recipe.
5 from 7 votes

Smoked Swordfish

This recipe works for any thick, meaty fish: Swordfish, marlin, tuna, paddlefish, sturgeon, yellowtail or other large jacks.
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat, Snack
Cuisine: American, Mexican
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Curing Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds swordfish or other firm, meaty fish
  • Salt

Instructions 

  • Heavily salt your fish; you can even bury them in salt. I use kosher or sea salt for this. Put them in the fridge for 1 hour per pound of the pieces of fish, i.e., if it's a 2-pound piece, two hours, a half-pound piece, 30 minutes.
  • Briefly rinse the fish and pat it dry. Let it sit on a rack in a cool place for at least 1 hour and up to overnight in the fridge. At room temperature, put a fan on the fish to speed drying and to keep bugs away.
  • Get your smoker to a steady, cool temperature. I use a Traeger, so I set it at 175°F or even 165°F. You can't really do this well if you can't keep your smoker below 200°F. Wood choice is yours, but for a Mexican flavor use mesquite. Alder, maple or apple are other great options.
  • Smoke the fish for at least 2 hours, and up to 6. The lower the temperature, the longer you can smoke it for. Four hours at 175°F is a nice compromise. Serve the smoked fish hot right away, or let it cool and use it for other dishes.

Nutrition

Calories: 163kcal | Protein: 22g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 92mg | Potassium: 474mg | Vitamin A: 136IU | Calcium: 6mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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17 Comments

  1. Hello Hank! Friend gifted me ALOT of frozen marlin from a recent Mexico trip. What thickness should these chunks be? And, no brine? I’ve never not brined fish (salmon / trout)

    TIA-

  2. Hank: gotta chime in. Remember “No Marlin on the Menu”? Killing these long-lived, slow-breeding top predators is not something that should ever be put to a cookbook. Just because it is done in lands where the abundance has not yet been destroyed is not an excuse. There are no modern examples where these fisheries are sustainable.

    Love you! Love all of your writing. Have never failed with one of your recipes. But…..recipes for billfish is sketchy…..

  3. Hank – Thank you. I’ve had great, repeated success with your smoked salmon technique. I tried the swordfish method with fresh swordfish today. Unfortunately, the meat inside turned out mushy. I smoked the fish, after salting and creating the pellicle, on my small Traeger with mesquite pellets for about 4 hours between 155-185. Per your salmon method, I used “smoke” setting for most of the cook. I did add a water pan inside the smoker to try to moderate the temperature. Any thoughts? Thanks, Tim

    1. Timothy: So, mushy as in gross, or mushy as in soft? It’s supposed to be soft, so you can shred it and kind of mash it for other recipes. It’s not supposed to get to a hard flake. If it was an unpleasant texture, my guess is that it spent too long below 185F. Swordfish is so thick it needs a decent amount of heat for a while. Try either putting it back in the smoked at 200F for an hour or two, or bake it at 200F for an hour or two. That should firm it up.

      1. Thanks Hank. I’ll bake the remaining steak tonight for a couple hours to firm it up. It was unappetizingly mushy. My little Traeger tailgater doesn’t have a precise thermostat.

        Btw – I’m a big fan. Have 2 books. I’m a goose, duck and dove hunter who loves to cook.

        Many thanks!
        Tim

  4. I have a couple swordfish steaks in the freezer and have been waiting for a good recipe to try. This is it. I smoked some halibut a while back and it was great. Thanks.

  5. Hello Hank,
    Love your recipies. I use some of them very often. I do not have a cold smoker, I have a Cameron stainless Steel hot smoker. Do think tis would work for Marlin?
    I live in South Africa and am also an antelope hunter, wing shooter, fly fisherman and game fisherman. I caught a 140kg Black Marlin at Sodwana Bay in December and have to use the portions of it that I brought home.
    Best regards,
    Ian Taylor

    1. Ian: Yes, this is hot smoked fish, so as long as you can keep the smoker fairly cool, like 93C or thereabouts, you will be fine.