Swordfish Sicilian Style (Pesce Spada alla Siciliana)

Even though I didn’t actually have this dish while I was in Sicily recently, I did see it on menus everywhere and I thought it would be appropriate to include it in the series of Sicilian recipes I’m doing. The swordfish is cooked in a tomato sauce bursting with flavor of onions, garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, and cayenne pepper. This is an easy dish to make, as long as you lower the heat (or even turn it off) when you finish cooking the fish to avoid overcooking it.



For 2 servings

1 swordfish steak of 300-450 grams (.66 – 1 lb)

1 can (400 grams/14 oz) peeled tomatoes

3 anchovies fillets or 10 cm (4″) of anchovies paste from a tube

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

120 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine

1/2 Tbsp (or more if you like…) capers, rinsed and drained

4 Tbsp chopped pitted black olives


cayenne pepper

flour for dusting

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Dust the swordfish with flour, shaking off any excess.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the swordfish on both sides for 1-2 minutes per side.

Set the swordfish aside.

Sauté the onion in the remaining oil until soft and slightly golden, 5-10 minutes.

Add the anchovies and garlic and sauté for a minute longer.

Add the white wine.

Cook until most of the wine has evaporated, scraping with a wooden spatula to get all the tasty bits into the sauce.

Whiz the tomatoes in the food processor and add them to the onions.

Stir in the olives and capers, and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until the sauce has a nice thick consistency.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper. Add the swordfish and cover it with the sauce. Turn off the heat and cook the swordfish in the sauce for 8 minutes, turning the swordfish once and covering it with sauce again. Turn the heat back on if the sauce cools off below 50C/122F.

Serve the swordfish on warm plates. Quickly heat the sauce remaining after having taken the swordfish out of the pan back up over high heat. Spoon the remaining sauce over the swordfish and sprinkle with parsley.

Wine pairing

This calls for a full-bodied south Italian dry white wine that bursts with flavor as much as the dish, such as a Greco di Tufo. A Sicilian white could be appropriate, but many are a lighter style.

17 thoughts on “Swordfish Sicilian Style (Pesce Spada alla Siciliana)

  1. Great ‘punchy’ recipe for a ‘sturdy’ piece of fish which can do with it! Wonder what, if anything you served with it? Can’y get swordfish here semi-rurally but we’ll tweak 🙂 ! As my knowledge of Italian cooking is more Norhern, am very much looking looking forwards to your Sicilian recipes.


    1. Thanks! I served this without anything else as a ‘secondo piatto’ after the peas & mint risotto as a ‘primo piatto’.
      I already posted some more Sicilian recipes, including arancini, busiate alla trapanese, and caponata.


      1. Shall wander backwards and catch up! I do remember the arancini but was stupid enough not to realize that caponata too came from the south: did not think of the ingredients!! Make it often instead of ratatouille . . .


  2. Looks great … you actually had me hooked at the point where you finished with the onion, garlic, anchovy and wine. That would make a terrific sauce in its own right 🙂


  3. I love swordfish! Although I personally prefer it “white” rather than with tomato sauce, using tomato sauce is a very south italian thing (not “sicilia-style” for nothing 😛 ), I’m from the north 😉 It definitely looks tasty though!! 😀


      1. I keep it very simple, I marinate it with some extra virgin oil and a salt and herbs mixture and then I fry it in a pan, it’s my favourite way to have swordfish. I don’t like using tomato much in general with fish because I like to savour the fish flavour 🙂


          1. YES! Precisely that! I use “Salamoia Bolognese” it’s an aromatic salt made with rosemary, sage, garlic and black pepper, it’s delicious on grilled meat as well!


  4. This is a great dish, Stefan, and the swordfish would certainly hold up to the intense flavors. GIve me a nice chunk of crusty bread and I’d be in heaven. I’ve a similar recipe for mackerel, but I’m sure you already know that. 🙂


  5. In our northern parts of Europe, what we call swordfish is the one with the sword-like snout (Xiphias gladius). In Portugal however, “Peixe Espada” (language-wise very close to the Italian, as you notice!) is Trichiurus lepturus, which is more of an eel-like creature with a silvery skin – gaining its name from the fact that the whole fish reminds of the blade of a sword. These two fish are obviously quite different from one another. Which one are you using in this recipe?


    1. I used xhiphias gladius, which is called pesce spada in Italian and espadarte in Portuguese. It’s interesting how fish names get messed up internationally, but I don’t see fish mongers moving over to latin names any time soon 😉
      Trichiurus lepturus is called pesce coltello in Italian by the way, so the biggest mix up is between Italian and Portuguese.


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