More than 30 years ago, I spent a month traveling in Sicily, hoping to find dishes that I could make at home and include in my new cookbook. It was an exercise in frustration. The island’s brilliant culinary skills were not yet reflected in its restaurants. On the other hand, the meals I had in private homes were sublime, but even more frustrating. Where in New York City, in the gastronomically parochial 1970s, would I find all the wild herbs, the fresh cheeses, the varieties of fish that my hosts were using?
On the last weekend of our trip, my husband, Victor, and I stopped in the resort town of Taormina, our thoughts focused on enjoying a lazy day or two of sun and sea. From its tables we expected little. “What is especially good here?” I asked the waiter at our first lunch. “The salmoriglio,” he said. “It’s our local swordfish, grilled and then moistened with olive oil, lemon juice and oregano.” I thought, What could go wrong? Nothing did, and nothing has since.
Salmoriglio never disappoints. I have made the dish for my family, for my friends, for my classes, for television and for this magazine; the times I have prepared it are beyond numbering. The flowing, uncooked sauce musters clear and vivid flavors from a thin slice of swordfish. Although salmoriglio cannot be surpassed, its principles can apply to equally delicious variations.