When the weekend arrives and I feel like celebrating, grilled swordfish topped with a salty black olive, basil, and tomato salsa pushes all the right buttons. It grills up in a flash; all I have to do is choose a wine and dinner is ready.

Swordfish, with its meaty, sweet flesh and firm texture can stand up to some seriously bold flavors.

In this recipe, I treat it like a steak and coat the fish in a homemade dry rub before it cooks.  The chunky olive salsa is spooned over later. Be generous with it!

A piece of grilled swordfish and a salad on a white plate.

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What is swordfish?

You may have seen one mounted on the wall in your grandfather’s den—swordfish are dynamic fish with a large, spearlike bill that helps them disable prey.

Like a marlin, a swordfish is a type of billfish that lives in our oceans and swims alone. They’re vigorous and powerful fish with few natural predators.

In case you’re wondering, they’re also delicious to eat, especially with a simple spice rub and a flavorful salsa.

Seasoned swordfish on a gray countertop.

Is swordfish safe to eat?

While there is some debate about methyl-mercury levels in fish being unsafe when eaten frequently, seafood is regarded as an important part of a balanced diet, primarily because it contains high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. 

To mitigate your risk of over exposure to mercury, limit your intake to six ounces per week. Because of the mercury, which, the FDA advises, can be dangerous to young children, pregnant and nursing women, and women of child-bearing age. Therefore, these groups should avoid eating swordfish.

Is swordfish sustainable?

Thirty years ago, swordfish were in danger of being overfished, but today, thanks to responsible fishing and improved habitats that allowed the population of North Atlantic swordfish to regrow, swordfish is fine to eat with a good conscience. 

Four pieces of grilled swordfish on a white platter.

What do you look for when buying swordfish?

First of all, swordfish is always sold as steaks. One of the best ways to buy swordfish is “clipper” swordfish, which is flash frozen at sea right after catching.

This is less expensive than fresh, never frozen swordfish. Raw swordfish steaks should show a whorled pattern in the meat and be firm with no dull or discolored skin. 

Because the average swordfish can range in size from 50-1000 pounds, the raw meat will vary in color from a white-ivory look to a pink-orange color. Also, look for the little strip of dark meat to be red, not brown.

If it’s brown, the meat is old. Know that swordfish steaks from the East coast tend to be a little rosier than Pacific fish; it’s due to their diet. If you do buy swordfish with the skin on, remove it before cooking as the skin is strong in taste and very tough.

How do you know when grilled swordfish is done? 

When the fish is done, it becomes opaque and flakes. Here’s how to tell: poke the tines of a fork into the thickest portion of the fish at a 45-degree angle. Then gently twist the fork and pull up some of the fish. Undercooked fish resists flaking and is translucent.

Two plates with a piece of grilled swordfish and a salad.

Can you eat swordfish pink? 

Depending on your specific cut of fish, your swordfish may have a little pinkness in the center, and that is fine. Overcooking swordfish makes it dry and tough, so watch your fish carefully.

Can you make swordfish kebabs on the grill? 

Absolutely! Feel free to cut up your steaks into chucks and apply the same rub, skewer them, and pop them over the coals. Swordfish is fabulous on the grill no matter how you prepare it. 

What sides go with grilled swordfish?

I’m always a big fan of the Rainbow Thai Salad with Mango, or maybe some Pineapple Salsa instead of the olives and basil. Fattoush is light and simple, and does double duty as a salad and a bread. Whatever you make, keep it easy so you still have time to catch the fireflies after dinner.

Grilled swordfish on a white plate with a side of greens and a silver fork.

Grilled Swordfish Recipe

When the weekend arrives and I feel like celebrating, grilled swordfish topped with a salty black olive, basil, and tomato salsa pushes all the right buttons. It grills up in a flash; all I have to do is choose a wine and dinner is ready.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 172


  • olive oil for coating
  • 4 swordfish steaks about ½ lb (250g) each

For the Spice Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds ground in a mortar and or spice grinder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper or freshly ground black pepper

For the Salsa:

  • 1/4 cup black olives
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt


  • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill or direct grilling over high heat and oil the grate. Coat the fish with oil.
  • To make the spice rub, mix together the garlic powder, basil, fennel, seeds, red pepper flakes, salt, and lemon pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of each swordfish steak generously with that spice rub. Set aside while preparing the salsa.
  • To make the salsa, mix together the olives, tomatoes, basil, garlic, cayenne, oil, and lemon juice together in a bowl. Taste and season with salt. Set aside.
  • Grill the swordfish directly over high heat, turning once, until grill-marked, firm to the touch, and opaque throughout, 3-4 minutes on each side. To serve, arrange the fish steaks on individual plates and top with the salsa or serve with the salsa.


Variation Tip: Serve with the salsa tossed with your favorite pasta. 


Calories: 172kcal
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Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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