I am not the kind of guy who easily tosses fruit on fish.
Fruit is something that should been seen at breakfast, or at a snack, or floating in a drink. But when the sun goes down and serious entree eating starts, the fruit, like children at a dinner party, should be out of sight.
Yet the other night, I put melon hunks on my swordfish for supper and liked it.
The motivating factor behind this culinary risk-taking was one that has been inspiring cooks for centuries, boredom.
I was bored with the usual way I cook swordfish. I had been marinating it in lime juice, olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, mint and wine, then grilling it on the barbecue.
This minty marinade worked fine on shark. But shark needs the extra flavor help and swordfish doesn't. When I cloaked it in this marinade, I thought the swordfish was overdressed.
So I was ready to strip it down. And one day recently when I had some fresh swordfish in the fridge, and some time on my hands, I flipped through cookbooks looking for a new way to cook an old friend.
I found this recipe in "365 Great Barbecue & Grilling Recipes," by Lonnie Gandara (Harper & Row 1990, $16).
At first it put me off, because it called for serving my magnificently grilled swordfish with fruit. Specifically, it called for a fruit salsa made of melons, lime juice and peppers.
Combining fish and fruit violated my standards of appropriate behavior. But it was summer, when starchy standards traditionally fall by the wayside. I decided to take a chance, to eat fruit after dark.
I was helped in my decision to use this recipe by the reassuring knowledge that I had most of the necessary ingredients. I had two of the suggested three melons, honeydew and cantaloupe. Only Crenshaw melon was missing.
I had limes, and cayenne pepper. This was the fall-back pepper. The original pepper was a jalapeno, but I didn't have one handy.
Similarly I didn't have cilantro. But I did have mint, the substitute herb, growing in my backyard.
I was also comforted to know that these were ingredients I enjoyed sniffing.
The melons smell good. And as I stood at the chopping board, dicing them into cubes, I couldn't stop myself from sampling a few cubes of cantaloupe.
The limes had a pleasing aroma as well, and they look appealing especially when they are floating in a glass of gin.
I was suspicious of the hot pepper. Pepper on fruit sounded forced. But the recipe didn't call for much cayenne pepper, just a quarter of a teaspoon. I figured if I was taking a risk, a quarter of teaspoon wasn't very dangerous.
Chopping mint reminds me of mint juleps, a memory that is pleasant any day other than the one immediately following Derby Day.
I mixed the chopped-up melons, the lime juice, the peppers and the mint in a bowl and put it in the fridge. It was supposed to sit there for several hours.
As best I understand the cooking strategy, the time was needed for the pepper and lime juices to work over the fruit, pulling out juices. Sugar does the same thing to cut-up strawberries.
I didn't wait that long; I didn't have the patience.
The swordfish, which I had given a quick bath in olive oil, garlic and soy sauce, cooked rapidly on the grill. The grill fire was hot, a "two-Mississippi" fire. When I put my hand over the ashy coals I could say only "one Mississippi, two Mississippi," before the heat from the fire made me pull my hand away.
This is a primitive but effective way to test a fire. And a "two-Mississippi" fire is ideal for a hunk of firm fish like swordfish. My half-pound fillet of swordfish was cooked all the way through in about seven minutes. I flipped it once.
Then while the fish was still sizzling I brought it to the table, and served it with the salsa.
What a flavor! The melon had picked up the flavor of the mint, rubbed shoulders with the pepper. Then there was the sensation of putting cold fruit in your mouth with a piece of hot fish. This was something you couldn't do at breakfast.
I ate and ate and ate.
I want to do it again. Next time I make it I think I'll add more pepper. Then I might switch melons, wheeling in a watermelon.
And just yesterday I eyed a recipe calling for strawberry salsa on whitefish.
Now that the old barriers are down, no fruit is safe after sundown.
Grilled swordfish with melon salsa
8 swordfish steaks, cut about 1 inch thick
1/3 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups diced cantaloupe or casaba melon
1 1/2 cups diced honeydew
1 1/2 cups diced Crenshaw melon
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or mint
1 jalapeno pepper seeded and minced or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.
Arrange swordfish in single layer in large, shallow baking pan or dish. Combine oil, soy, lime and garlic and pour over fish. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, turning occasionally.
Prepare a hot fire. When coals are covered with gray ash, grill swordfish, turning once and moving as necessary to ensure even cooking, until opaque at center, 10 to 12 minutes total. Serve with melon salsa.
To make salsa, combine melons, lime juice, herbs and pepper in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.