Some fish are valued primarily for culinary reasons, while others are cherished for the challenge and excitement they offer as sport fish. Sailfish definitely fall into the latter category, as a fierce fighter and the fastest swimmer among all fish. Their flesh is firm and meaty, like swordfish or tuna, but lacks the mildness of one or the rich flavor of the other. Sailfish is cooked in the same ways as those two fish, though it requires some extra steps.
How You'll Find It
It's relatively rare to find sailfish meat for sale at a fish market, because its flavor is less appealing than the other offerings. You're likeliest to see it in resort areas, where sportfishing is common and some sailfish might be too spent to survive after they're landed. The fillets are relatively large, so you'll see it primarily in the form of "loins," roughly the size of a beef tenderloin, or sliced into steaks. If you've landed a sailfish of your own, you can usually ask the boat's crew to prepare it for freezing.
Preparing the Sailfish
Sailfish meat has a strong red tinge, and spots of darker flesh running along the line of the backbone. Its flavor is variable between fish, sometimes mild and sometimes strong. The best way to prepare sailfish for cooking is to submerge it in a brine solution of salt, sugar and spices. To prepare the brine, dissolve 6 ounces of salt and sugar for every 2 quarts of boiling water along with your choice of spices and herbs. Strain the brine and chill it, then soak sailfish steaks for two to four hours. A standard ratio is approximately 1/4 pound of salt to half as much sugar, but you can increase the sugar if you like a sweeter flavor.
Grilled Sailfish Steaks
The brined sailfish is paler in appearance than it was originally, and its flavor will be milder and slightly savory. To grill the steaks, brush them lightly with an oil-based marinade or oil them lightly and then crust them with crushed spices. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat, approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and sear the steaks for approximately three to four minutes on each side. They should be just barely medium-rare when done. Sailfish's texture is very firm and meaty, and if your steaks came from a mature fish they might even benefit from being tenderized with a meat mallet before they're grilled.
Kebabs or Stir-Fry
The firm texture of sailfish makes it ideal for cooking on skewers, as well. Cube the brined fillets and marinate them for up to an hour in your favorite fruit juice- or vinegar-based marinade, then thread them on your skewers and grill them over high heat. Alternatively, cut your steaks into flat, finger-width strips and stir-fry them with fresh ginger, scallions, chili sauce and other Asian seasonings. The sailfish itself is not known for exceptional flavor, but its meatiness makes it a superlative foundation for bold seasonings.
- Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen; Culinary Institute of America
- Marine Bio Conservation Society: Sailfishes
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images