2.18.2017

Resting on One's {Bay} Laurels

When we lived in Maine, we dreamed of growing several herbs that just weren't happy with our wintry climate. We did everything we could to coax rosemary and basil plants through the winter, so we could cook with them, or simply to brush our hands against a sprig and dream we were in Paradise… instead of our frigid, ice-coated ring of Dante's Inferno.

To make our lives happier in that cold clime, we eventually added a "conservatory" to the west side of our home - a place of warmth and sunshine. "Conservatory" is certainly an exaggeration for our half octagon bump-out that barely accommodated two chairs, a tiny table, and all our potted plants.

Easter dinner in the conservatory. Note the jasmine,
another plant that didn't like our winters, and the forced forsythia.
Still, one year, when we were particularly missing Italy, we bought a little bay plant - Laurus nobilis. We potted it in a beautiful Italian terra cotta planter, lugged it in-and-outdoors seasonally, and kept it happy and alive until the day we moved to Arizona. It was a prized possession.

In Tucson, bay grows well, so we have two large bushes that keep us happy year-round. When people visit from afar, we often send them home with several branches as fragrant souvenirs.

Today's recipe is one that we first had with our cousin Cathy in Boston, cooked on a little hibachi outside her Beacon Hill apartment window on the fire escape. Of course, fresh bay leaves were almost unheard of then, so she soaked and used dried ones. But today, with our embarrassment of bay leaves, we use them willy-nilly, not even thinking about the days when they were rare and special.

Cathy gave me the recipe but it is long lost, so I’ve reinvented it, using my mother's marinade for swordfish steaks, and then creating a lemon-butter sauce for serving. I grilled grape tomatoes as a side, and they were such a good complement that they have become part of the recipe.

Whether you live south of the equator and are enjoying high summer, or are up here in the north enduring winter and dreaming of Italian gardens or the Cรดte d'Azur, you should make this. I assure you that you will be transported. If you can't barbecue in the winter, these can be done on a grill pan on the stove, or in the oven under the broiler.

And - as a nice side benefit - the cooking/burning bay leaves smell like incense.

~ David

Swordfish Skewers with Bay Laurel and Lemon-Mustard Sauce

1 1/2 pounds swordfish steaks, skin removed
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
40 grape tomatoes (approximately)
24-30 fresh bay leaves *

4 tablespoons butter
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 metal skewers **

Cut the swordfish into equal cubes - about 1 1/4-inch - and place them in a glass dish. Pour over the olive oil, then squeeze over the lemon juice. Season with the salt and set aside to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

When marinated, remove the cubes from the marinade and add the tomatoes to the marinade, and toss. Using 4 skewers, place the swordfish cubes on the skewers with a bay leaf between the cubes; start and finish each skewer with the swordfish. Set aside on a platter.

Divide the grape tomatoes among another 4 skewers, and add them to the platter with the fish. Pour any remaining marinade over the fish and tomatoes. Allow to rest at room temperature while you heat the grill to high.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the grated zest, lemon juice, dried mustard, and salt. Whisk together; keep warm.

Grill the swordfish skewers for a couple of minutes on each side - your timing will vary depending on the thickness of your swordfish and the heat of your grill. The bay leaves may catch on fire (that's when you can enjoy the scent of incense!) but that is not a problem. Test a cube before removing from the fire. When done, place the skewers on 4 plates and drizzle with the lemon-butter sauce with tomatoes and add a rice pilaf on the side.

Serves 4.

* Fresh bay leaves are now popping up in grocery stores in their fresh herbs section. If you need to use dried bay leaves, soak them in water for 30 minutes prior to skewering them but be prepared - they will burn.

** I prefer metal skewers; no matter how long I soak the wooden ones, they burst into flames.

32 comments:

  1. I love everything about this recipe! Looks so light, but it comes with tons of delicious flavor! I'm jealous over your thriving bay plant. One of my dreams is to have a overflowing herb garden and a few fruit trees too. No luck starting on that dream so far! I kill everything, but cacti! :);)Beautiful food, David!!

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    1. Thanks, Marcelle! The nice thing about bay trees is that they are very easy to grow - you could have one in a pot! But if you can't find fresh bay leaves, let me know / I will mail some to you!

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  2. What an amazing way to prepare fish, we have a bay plant as well and last year I dried some to take to Oregon and threw some away, sigh. Anyway pinned and printed this will be happening at my house soon. Hope you are having a beautiful week-end, it has been raining and I am in heaven.

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    1. Loving the rain here, too - although I may change my mind when I leave the house for the Market! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad you have a bay tree, too - sometimes we use the leaves as fragrant bookmarks - it reminds us of being in Italy!

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  3. Bay and rosemary are the easiest herbs for me to grow here in So Cal. I have to whack the rosemary almost to the ground every couple of years but the bay just keeps growing taller and taller. I bet it's 7 feet tall this year. That's a lot of swordfish skewers. GREG

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    1. Start grilling now, Greg! Yes, rosemary and bay grow Luke weeds here, too. Such problems...

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  4. I love the sound and look of your conservatory, David... and running your fingers through plants to take you back to a dream. xx

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    1. Dreams are just tomorrow's plans, aren't they, Liz? That little conservatory really saved us in the winter! And, it became a nice screened porch in the summer.

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  5. This sounds delicious and as I have fresh Bay too I will try it! Also, what do you you use for your hot chocolate every morning?

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    1. Thanks, Jean! Bay grows so well here in Tucson... I'm surprised more people don't have it in their gardens!

      I use Pernigotti Cocoa for my everyday hot cocoa. (I order it online on Amazon by the kilo!) On special occasions, I use Mexican hot chocolate, or the hot chocolate from Burdick's in New Hampshire.

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  6. Wow, this doesn't even look like fish. I am sure even my fish hating brother would love this.

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    1. Thanks, Cathleen - that certainly would be high praise from a fish hater!

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  7. Hi David,

    Such a great idea to incorporate whole bay leaves to skewers. Not only does it look pretty, I'm sure it adds much deliciousness as well. Thanks for this delectable recipe. I enjoy cooking with bay leaves and a bay tree would make a lovely addition to the garden. Best wishes.

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    1. Thanks so much, Ngeun! I am actually making this again for dinner tomorrow because seeing the post reminded me how good it is!

      I think a bay tree would grow beautifully in your climate in Australia. I hope you get one!

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  8. The smell of the bay must be heavenly, and it makes me wonder how my tiny tree is doing back in Sydney. And a big YES to the lemon butter sauce!

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    1. How could you say "no" to a lemon butter sauce?? I am sure your tree is doing fine, John - it must be hard to be away from home for so long, especially if you have a garden!

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  9. A great idea to present swordfish in a different way.

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  10. Big or small, your conservatory looks beautiful. I wish we had a spot like that in our house. The breakfast nook has one side with French doors, but it's just not quite the same as being surrounded by light!

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    1. Thanks, Frank - it rally saved us for quite a few long Maine winters!

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  11. We love herbs. Also in Northern Italy we need a kind of "conservatory" to preserve our fresh rosemary, thyme and other plants from winter cold. Picking a fresh sprig of your own bay leaves or rosemary or thyme has no price! Ciao ciao, Anna

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    1. You are so right, Anna! I can get along fine without growing my own vegetables, but I don't think I could survive without my fresh herbs! We dreamed of creating a limonaia in Maine, but just didn't have the space. Un abbraccio, David

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  12. I've never grown Bay leaves and I don't know why. They'd grow well here so it's now on my "what to plant" list! And I really want to have that Bay incense aroma in my house. I love the idea of having swordfish this way, rather than in a large steak. I'd have a tomato on my fork with each bite. Perfect.

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    1. That is exactly how we ate it - the tomato really enhances each bite!

      You definitely need to have a bay tree, Valentina! So easy to grow - especially where you live!

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  13. I really like the idea of putting the bay leaves on the skewer, I'll have to try that next time!

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    1. It really perfumes the fish beautifully, Caroline!

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  14. Lovely dish. I remember my oldest raving about the giant rosemary plant in her backyard when she was at ASU, but she wouldn't have known bay. I nurse rosemary (and usually marjoram) through the winter and may have to try bay. Would love a conservatory like you had but we do have a sunny back hallway with plants nestled among snow boots.

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    1. Marjoram is one of my favorites, Inger, and I recently saw a dish that called fro it and now I can't remember where it was! (I hate getting old!)

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  15. What a lovely story about those herbs and your garden and your green thumb(s) - my laurel is growing out of control in summer and I am always happy to cut off branches as well and give them away as gifts!
    I love the look of your fish skewers and your lovely sauce and all - what a wonderful recipe, with great pics and a great story!
    Wishing you and Mark a wonderful weekend!
    Andrea & Co.

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    1. Thanks, dearest Andrea! I am so glad you also have a nice bay tree - it is so wonderful!

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  16. I missed this recipe, but I adore swordfish, especially if it comes from Sicily, where I first fell in love with it! I do have a bay tree, albeit a pathetic specimen. I was looking at it the other day and realized it's in a silly spot, and will have to move it.

    This recipe makes me want to make it right now! I can just imagine how delicious it is! I'll be moving my bay tree today!

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    1. Yes - pesce spada in Sicilia is amazing. Good luck with your bay tree!

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