What is a black swordfish and how do you cook it?

Espada preta, or black swordfish, is a popular meal on the island of Madeira. But what does it taste like? (Photo: Getty Creative)

Seafood is quite polarizing when it comes to most Americans’ taste buds, but even the most enthusiastic of fish lovers can dismiss the atrocity that is Madeira’s black sheath.

The Portuguese island is known for its diversity of oceanic delicacies like limpets and octopus, but the ugly swordfish stands out in a fisherman’s market as a sore thumb – or rather, a long, black thumb with jagged, eel-like teeth. eyes and a shiny exterior that looks straight out of an oil slick.

I’m not saying my animals need to be adorable before eating them: choosing beef, pork, or lamb for dinner based on their cuteness is actually quite morbid. But one look at a black sheath will make you think twice about eating. In fact, you might even convince yourself that he’s going to eat you first.

Sea monster?

Of course, this nightmare is impossible. As the black sheath hides at depths of up to 1,700 meters, the water pressure actually kills them when they are brought to the surface. Whether or not this practice is human remains to be determined, but black scabbards literally don’t live to see the light of day.

And yet, the locals go to great lengths to preserve the tradition of this famous ingredient. According to Sílvio de Freitas, owner and chief executive of Peixaria no Mercado, fish without scales is so critical to the Madeiran fishing industry that it represents around 50% of maritime exports. Needless to say, Ursula isn’t too pleased: she probably considers them her friends, or her “poor poo” if you will.

Big fish to fry

Never turning down the opportunity to delve into the food of other cultures, I overcame my initial reluctance to try the black sheath and went all out.

Traditionally, fish is served fried with local bananas and is one of Madeira’s most popular dishes.

“Its origin dates back to the 80s when the need arose to combine this abundant fish in Madeira’s waters with the abundant exotic fruit”, explains de Freitas. “The fillets themselves are seasoned with salt, garlic and lemon juice. Then they are passed in beaten egg and flour and fried in olive oil until golden brown.”

Locals have also come up with creative iterations, such as adding a passion fruit sauce that has become increasingly popular in Funchal (the island’s bustling capital), especially among tourists.

Good taste

This is precisely the preparation that called my name, because I’m in love… with passion fruit. After tasting the dish on several occasions, I can indeed confirm that the island’s most iconic dish is absolutely delicious. Its texture and flavor is more similar to haddock: lean white meat with little oil but a subtle sweetness and absolutely zero indication of any fish. I also appreciated how the filet’s simple flavors allowed local produce like the aforementioned passion fruit to really shine through.

While the black scabbardfish is essentially non-existent in the US, its brighter sister, the silver scabbard, sometimes appears and can be found in specialty seafood stores. (Or just use haddock.) That said, you can pay homage to the famous meal by using Madeira-inspired ingredients to capture the flavor profile. De Freitas even provided his own recipe below.

If ever there was an example of why not judge a book by its cover, it’s the black sheath. Just be sure to add salsa… and avoid any internet research before eating.

Black Swordfish with Fried Banana

Courtesy of fishmonger in the market

The black scabbard, as prepared by Madeira restaurant Peixaria no Mercado.  (Photo: Soren Lauridsen/Fish Shop at the Market)

The black scabbard, as prepared by Madeira restaurant Peixaria no Mercado. (Photo: Soren Lauridsen/Fish Shop at the Market)


  • 4 black swordfish fillets

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1 cup of flour

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or more if needed)

  • 2 Madeira bananas (or plantains)

  • 2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped


  1. Season the fillets with lemon juice, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Let them rest in the fridge for a few hours.

  2. In a bowl or bowl, place the flour. In another container or bowl, place the beaten egg.

  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

  4. Drain the fillets from the marinade and dip them in the flour and then in the beaten egg. Place them in the skillet and fry them in hot oil until they are golden in color. Drain the fillets on absorbent paper.

  5. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise. Pass them through the flour and egg bowls and quickly fry them in oil until they are golden in color. Let it also drain on absorbent paper.

  6. Place the fillets on a platter or plate. Place a piece of banana on top of each fillet. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with boiled potatoes. You can also make a homemade passion fruit sauce to drizzle over the top.

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