One of the most delectable fish species we know is the Peixe Espada, also known as the Espada Preta, the Black Scabbard fish. It is a deep-sea fish, found only off the Madeira Archipelago and around the Japanese archipelago. It is the ‘black gold of Madeira’. The fish lives at depths between 1000 and 2000 metres and is fished with lines.
There is a reason for this fish being a favourite dish in Madeira. You will find it on many menus, usually mistranslated as Swordfish or the German, French or English equivalent. Wrong, it is definitely not a swordfish (xiphias gladius), which is also very tasty but not comparable to the Espada Preta. We are speaking about the species aphanopus carbo.
Traditional Madeiran cuisine serves the Espada with a sauce made from the delicious Madeira banana. The slightly more luxurious version also uses the passion fruit that grows everywhere on the island. This is how we like it best. After a lot of experimentation, we have nailed the sauce completely.
the ingredients for the sauce are:
- a medium sized onion or two larger shallots
- two small ripe bananas
- the pulp of three to four passion fruits (if you can buy the pulp in a tin you can use that)
- pepper en salt
- olive oil
Finely chop the onion or shallots and glaze them on a low heat. Now peel the bananas, cut them up and add the slices to the onion or shallot that is simmering gently, and immediately add the pulp of the passion fruit and leave to simmer until the banana is completely done. Now you have to strain it through a sieve. This will get rid of the passion fruit pips and make it a nice smooth mass. Of course, you can also strain the passion fruit pulp first, or, even better, remove the seeds in a juicer. Some people like te leave the pips in, that is no problem, and merely a matter of personal taste.
If the pips are no longer in the sauce, you can also use a hand blender to smooth it out. It is not advisable to do this with the pips in, as the pips become a bit like sand when blended through the sauce. Some people do not mind the pips. If you want to leave them in the sauce, first cook the bananas with the onions, and put the hand blender in before adding the passion fruit. Finally, experiment. Fish lovers find that often eating Espada Preta is no hardship at all. For gourmets: also add the flesh of a ripe mango, for example. Very tasty too. Finally, pepper and salt the sauce to taste.
can’t get Espada Preta?
You will not find the Peixe Espada easily in your home country. Having said that, a reader told me he was able to buy Espada Preta in the Rotterdam area. Maybe you will be able to find it, or perhaps Espada Branca, the white scabbard fish, which is more common. If you can’t find it, any firm white fish will do. It may not quite be the same, but if you use the sauce if will strongly remind you of better days in lovely Madeira! You need two fillets of up to 100 grams per person. Whatever fish you use: pepper and salt it, then sprinkle it with flour (use a sieve). Fry until golden brown in olive oil.
Meanwhile, cut the bananas ( one pp) lengthwise and fry until golden in olive oil. The sugars in the banana need to lightly caramelise, so don’t turn your heat too low. Serve the fish on a large plate with a mirror of the sauce. Lay the fried banana on top of the fish fillets. Take care not to soak the fish in the sauce, you can serve more sauce separately for those who want more of it. Here in Madeira, Peixe Espada is usually served with some boiled potatoes and some boiled sweet potatoes. They often also gove you rice, which we find a little too much.
We have experimented a lot to find suitable vegetables to accompany this fish. The taste is simply too delicate for a strong-tasting vegetable, and carrots…. Well, that’s a bit too obvious. Finally, we found the solution: a traditional Dutch dish called ‘hutspot’, which is simply a combination of potatoes, carrots and onions. Only, we replace the potatoes with sweet potatoes. Made with the extremely tasty and fresh carrots and onions from our farmer’s market this becomes a delicate and elegant side dish. For four servings, we use 400 grams of boiled sweet potatoes, 200 grams of finely chopped carrots and 200 grams of finely chopped onions. Glaze the onions and the carrots in butter or margarine at a low heat, then add a little water and let it simmer until done. not too much water, because the mix you will make with the sweet potatoes should be firm. If it is too dry, you can add some cream or milk, but, again, not too much as the ‘hutspot’ is not supposed to be liquid. Use baking rings to make a nice disc on every plate and serve the rest separately. If you prefer this delicious meal to be prepared for you, you are of course very welcome in our B&B. If you make use of our dinner-service, we will gladly prepare the Peixe Espada for you!
the image at the top of this page,repeated in the article, is actually a photo we made of the Peixe Espada we made ourselves in our kitchen. It shows how you can elegantly shape the ‘hutspot’ side dish on the plate, and it shows the way we have poured some sauce on the plate first, as to not soak the fish in it.