Swordfish is a popular fish that is loved by many for its meaty texture and mild flavor. However, there is some debate around how thoroughly swordfish needs to be cooked in order to be safe to eat. In this article, we will examine how well swordfish needs to be cooked, looking at recommendations from governmental health organizations, chefs, and home cooks.
USDA Recommendations for Cooking Swordfish
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), swordfish is best enjoyed when cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F/63°C. This is the USDA’s recommendation for cooking finfish like swordfish, tuna, salmon, and others to destroy any potential foodborne illnesses or parasites.
Cooking swordfish to 145°F/63°C means the interior of the flesh should reach this temperature. For a steak or filet, using a food thermometer is the best way to check that the thickest part of the fish has reached the proper internal temperature.
The USDA warns against eating undercooked swordfish, as it can potentially harbor bacteria, viruses, or parasites that can cause foodborne illness. Proper cooking to an internal temp of 145°F kills any potential pathogens. Consuming raw or undercooked swordfish comes with health risks.
Chef Recommendations for Cooking Swordfish
Professional chefs generally agree that swordfish should be cooked to at least 145°F/63°C or above to eliminate health risks from eating undercooked fish. However, many chefs recommend cooking swordfish even beyond this baseline temperature to get the best results.
Here are chef recommendations for cooking swordfish:
- Grill or pan sear: Cook to internal temp of 150-155°F/65-68°C
- Bake or broil: Cook to internal temp of 155-160°F/68-71°C
- Poach or braise: Cook to internal temp of 160°F/71°C
These guidelines help prevent overdrying the swordfish while still reaching an internal temperature that kills potential bacteria and pathogens. Swordfish has a firmer, meaty texture that stays moist even when cooked to temps within these ranges.
Chefs advise using a digital food thermometer to accurately check temperature instead of relying on cooking times. The thickness of the fish and cooking method can impact how quickly it cooks.
Tips for Home Cooks
For home cooks preparing swordfish at home, it can help to keep these tips in mind:
- Bring swordfish to room temperature before cooking for more even cooking. Take it out of refrigeration 30 minutes before cooking.
- Pat dry swordfish fillets before seasoning or cooking to help browning.
- Brush swordfish with oil before grilling, broiling, or pan-searing to prevent sticking.
- Use a digital instant-read thermometer to check internal temp, inserting into thickest part.
- Allow swordfish to rest 3-5 minutes after cooking before serving.
Common Cooking Methods for Swordfish
Here are some of the most popular cooking methods for swordfish and their recommended target internal temperatures:
|Target Internal Temp
Grilling and Broiling
Grilling and broiling are two of the most popular ways to cook swordfish. The high heat helps create a nicely charred exterior while cooking the interior to a safe and pleasant doneness.
Aim to cook swordfish on a preheated grill or under the broiler to an internal temperature of 150-155°F/65-68°C. This prevents the fish from drying out while getting a tasty sear.
Before grilling or broiling, coat the swordfish lightly with oil to prevent sticking. Grill over direct high heat or broil 4-6 inches from heat source for best results.
Baking and Roasting
Baking swordfish in the oven is an easy hands-off cooking method. Baking helps keep the fish uniformly moist and tender.
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. Bake swordfish in a baking dish until it reaches an internal temperature of 155-160°F/68-71°C. Check temp at thickest part with a thermometer.
Baking at this temp range gives the interior enough time to cook through gently without overdrying.
Pan-searing on the stovetop lets you develop a tasty browned crust on swordfish. Use a skillet with a small amount of oil heated over medium-high heat.
Sear swordfish for 2-3 minutes per side until it develops a nice color. Then reduce heat to medium and cook another 2-4 minutes per side until it reaches an internal temp of 150-155°F/65-68°C.
Poaching and Braising
Poaching and braising are gentler moist-heat methods for cooking swordfish. Poaching involves simmering swordfish in liquid like wine, broth, or water flavored with aromatics.
Braising uses a small amount of liquid in a covered pan to steam and tenderize the fish. For both methods, cook swordfish until it reaches an internal temp of 160°F/71°C.
These slower cooking times result in very tender and moist swordfish that flakes easily when cooked to 160°F/71°C.
Signs of Properly Cooked Swordfish
In addition to verifying temperature, you can look for these visual cues that indicate the swordfish is fully cooked:
- Opaque flesh that is no longer translucent
- Easily flakes into segments when poked with a fork
- Whitish, moist flakes when separated
Undercooked swordfish will be partially translucent and resilient when poked. Overcooked swordfish will be very firm and dry.
For food safety, swordfish should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F/63°C according to USDA guidelines. However, cooking swordfish between 150°F-160°F/65°C-71°C results in the best texture and moisture level.
Use a digital thermometer to check the thickest part of the swordfish instead of relying on eyeballing color and appearance. Allow swordfish to rest a few minutes after cooking for juices to redistribute.
Grilling, baking, pan-searing, and poaching are all excellent cooking methods for swordfish. Follow the recommended target internal temperatures for each technique for perfectly cooked, tender and flaky swordfish you’ll want to make again and again.