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Fish Tacos by Josh Niland

Photography: Rob Palmer

Swordfish Tacos Al Pastor by Josh Niland

Excerpted from: TAKE ONE FISH: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant, £26) Photography: Rob Palmer

05 August, 2021
Average: 3.2 (18 votes)

serves for



Grapeseed oil
21/2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus extra for brushing
8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Dried oregano
2 teaspoons
Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
Black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
Guajillo pepper
7 dried Guajillo or Ancho chillies, stems and seeds removed, cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces
Pineapple juice
180 ml (6 fl oz) pineapple juice
Apple cider vinegar
80 ml (21/2 fl oz/1/3 cup) apple-cider vinegar
Achiote paste
100 g (31/2 oz/1/3 cup) achiote paste
sea salt flakes
2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) trimmed sword fish loin sliced into 3 mm (1/8 in) thick rounds
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled
To Serve
20 warm corn tortillas
1 large onion, finely diced
sea salt flakes
2 bunches coriander (cilantro), stems and leaves coarsely chopped
3 limes, cut into wedges

I first tasted tacos al pastor only a few years ago in LA, where they have some unbelievably good taco vendors. Besides the beauty of the spinning pork adorned with a glorious golden pineapple, I was completely mesmerised by the vendor’s muscle memory; it was incredible to see the speed at which he sliced the pork and presented it in perfectly formed corn tortillas.

While I know that swordfish doesn’t carry the same rich fattiness as pork, I just had to try replicating this absolutely delicious dish using fish and the horizontal rotisserie grill on my barbecue (though a regular grill or griddle pan also works well). I’m really happy with the result.

Step 01

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium–high heat to a light haze. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute until lightly coloured. Reduce the heat to medium, add the oregano, cumin, pepper and clove and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chilli and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or until it begins to blister and bubble. Add the pineapple juice, vinegar and achiote paste and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stand for 5 minutes.

Step 02

Pour the chilli mixture into a blender and blitz to a smooth puree. Season well with salt. Decant the marinade into a very clean stainless steel baking tray or clean airtight container. Add the swordfish loin and turn to coat liberally and evenly. Leave uncovered in the fridge to marinate overnight.

Step 03

The next day, thread the marinated fish onto a vertical/horizontal spit (or onto large metal skewers), folding the rounds over to create half moons.

Alternate the direction of the slices so the finished result is even and the slices are interlocked.

Step 04

If you are using a charcoal grill, make sure the grill is very hot with evenly burnt-down embers. If you are working with a rotisserie, make sure the coals are spread evenly through the centre of the grill, so the fiercest heat is in the middle.

The key to cooking this dish well is to work over a very high heat – the more caramelisation you can achieve on the marinade the better. If the temperature is too low the fish will cook before it has any real colour.

Step 05

Before grilling the fish, brush the peeled pineapple with a little grapeseed oil.

Grill over a medium heat, turning every 3–4 minutes, until it is evenly charred on the outside with tender flesh on the inside. (Alternatively, set the pineapple in the embers and leave for 1 hour until blackened all over.) Set aside.

Step 06

Brush the skewered swordfish with grapeseed oil and grill over a high heat, turning regularly to allow the fish and marinade to toast and caramelise. The cooking time will vary, depending on the fattiness of the swordfish and the heat of your grill, but it could take between 12–15 minutes.

The best way to check is to insert a probe thermometer close against the skewer: the temperature should not exceed 46-48°C (115-118°F). Too much heat will result in very dry, chalky swordfish. Remove from the grill and rest for 4–5 minutes.

Step 07

To serve, using a very sharp knife, slice the swordfish off the skewer straight onto warm corn tortillas. Cut the pineapple into thick slices. Top the tortillas with diced onion, salt flakes, a slice of grilled pineapple and chopped coriander, and finish with a big squeeze of lime.

Serve hot with cold beers.

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