PFB: Ancho-seared Swordfish with Ginger-Sweet Potato Mash, seared Escarole and Mango Mojo De Ajo

[26 Sep 2010 | By | 18 Comments]


Now THAT is a tongue twister.

Its round two of Project Food Blog—a ‘vote you off the island’ experience for food bloggers—put on by Foodbuzz. This challenge is to cook from a cuisine outside your comfort zone. Perfect: Challenge 1 I defined myself as ‘the Uncomfortable Chef’ because jumping out of the nest to fly among new, uncomfortable cuisines, foods, techniques and tastes defines me as a chef. Who can argue with the notion that pushing off from one’s culinary comfort zone isn’t a good thing? I get to fly? Grow? Discover? Taste brand new bites of ‘exquisite’? Become a better chef? Sign me up.

While I adore the cozy kitchen nest—in my case Italian food, French food, table-worthy recipes and family favorites—it is venturing out, finding new leaves, twigs, bites/recipes/methods that feeds my craving to be a better chef.


And while my nest is small, the world is large and I have a lot to learn. There are more cuisines than there are countries—and every kitchen participates in defining their cultural table. In culinary school I studied world cuisines, American cuisine (so diverse!) and Asian cuisine (far out of my comfort zone; but if I can do it—so can you). I started thumbing through some of those cookbooks and was circling curries (from India? from Thailand? green or red?) while simultaneously unpacking another box of cookbooks (just moved home from Italy), when I landed on one called Mod Mex.

The Mexican food I put on our home table is paltry at best. A few little tacos gathering on a plate, enchiladas all gussied up, fajitas with homemade salsa and guacamole. Not terribly adventuresome—and not giving proper kudos to a cuisine bursting with all sorts of spicy chilies and peppers, cool citrus, masa, crema, paella, soul-stirring mole sauces and long-roasted, fork-pulled pork. Add in cinnamon and bananas, churros, squash, sopas, beans, empanadas, jicama, all manner of seafood and cilantro. What I love about delving into a new cuisine is wrapping my mind their go-to spices and herbs, and the fruits, vegetables and proteins that define their cultural table. Mexican cuisine is a beautiful cuisine. And with this post, and recipe: my little culinary bird is spreading her wings.


I would make this again in a heartbeat:

Ancho-Seared Swordfish
with ginger-sweet potato mash, seared escarole, and mango mojo de ajo
serves 6.

Ginger Sweet Potato Mash
3 sweet potatoes
3 T butter
1 T freshly grated ginger
2-3 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp ancho chili powder
kosher salt to taste (TT)

1/4 cup ancho chili powder
2 T sugar
1 tsp each KS&CP (kosher salt and coarse pepper)
6 swordfish steaks, 1 inch thick
1 T canola oil

2 T butter
4 cups escarole, stems removed, cut into 2 inch pieces

Mango Mojo de Ajo
1 T canola oil
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 chilis, stems/seeds/membranes removed, ground in food processor (arbol, thai, jalapeno, New Mexico…)
1 mango, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes
1 cup lobster/fish/chicken stock
2 T lime juice
1 stick butter, sliced and softened (I used a little less)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
kosher salt TT

1. Make ginger-sweet potato mash: wrap sweet potatoes in foil, bake in 350 oven for 1 hour. Unwrap, peel off skins, then mash potatoes and place in pot with remaining ingredients. Heat to low, leave on lid to keep warm.

2. Prepare remaining ingredients (in culinary school we called this Mis En Place; I adore this pre-prepping):

  • for swordfish: combine chili powder/sugar/salt/pepper in flat bowl for dredging. Put pan-for-sauteing on stove. Get out your canola.
  • for escarole: wash, spin and chop. Get out butter, KS&CP.
  • for mango mojo: prepare peppers, garlic, mango, lime, cilantro and butter (if you slice up cold butter—it has more surface area and softens quickly). Have at hand: canola, stock, salt. Put second pan-for-sauteing on stove.

3. Make mango sauce: Skillet on medium-high, add oil, and saute garlic and chilies 1-2 minutes. Add mango and stock, cook to reduce liquid by half. Add lime, and whisk in butter one cube at a time to incorporate. Stir in cilantro, season with salt. Keep warm.

4. Make swordfish: oven to 250, heat skillet, dredge each side in seasonings, add oil and sear to ‘blacken’ each side of fish—2-3 minutes per side. Put all fish in oven-safe dish and ‘finish’ cooking/keep warm in oven while you:

5. Make escarole: in same swordfish skillet (wipe out as needed), heat to high, add butter then escarole, stir and wilt about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; season with KS&CP.

6. Plating: (this is up to you; I plated it two different ways) place pile of sweet potatoes, top with escarole, top that with swordfish and finish with the mango sauce. (note: when I removed the swordfish from the oven, all this yummy juice had accumulated—USE IT. This is the good stuff. I stirred it into the sweet potatoes. You could also pour it over the swordfish or on top of the escarole…).



  • adapted from Dos Caminos Mexican Kitchen MOD MEX.
  • this challenge was my excuse to learn a little more about chilies and peppers.
  • did you know? fresh chilies have one name—their dried counter-parts have a different name.
  • I blog about recipes that are worth your time; if it isn’t fantastic—I don’t blog about it.
  • we only have so many bites in this life… my goal is to make each one count.
  • even in other cuisines: my goal is food/recipes that are accessible, approachable and adaptable to your home kitchen.
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  • Kate said (27 September 2010 at 5:05 am):

    I’m all for making each bite count, and talking about blog-worthy recipes. After all, if I don’t come away from a dish thrilled and excited about it, why should I think anyone else will? I love exploring new cuisines and trying dishes that expand my palate and mind. I just came across a website called Recipe Source (add the dot com) and it features scads of recipes from all kinds of cuisines. A girl could get lost in there for a long, long time.

    Keep plowing on Janelle. I may be biased due to our mutual admiration but you’ve got the goods to get far in this one, maybe all the way to the top.

  • antonietta said (27 September 2010 at 6:56 am):

    This looks delicious! What a big step out of your comfort zone- but from the looks of it- you should step out more often! Great Job and best of luck in the contest!

  • janelle said (27 September 2010 at 9:45 am):

    Kate: aw—you are so kind! And the encouragement SO timely! Thank you!!!! Will have to check out Recipe Source… like I NEED another food source for losing myself;))).

    Antonietta: Thank you! I adore my comfort zone when life is busy or complicated… but never ever regret stepping outside of it when life is more sane;)))).

  • Amy (Sing For Your Supper) said (27 September 2010 at 11:23 am):

    Oh yummy….this looks seriously amazing!! I voted for you! Best of luck!

  • Shelly Borrell (Nibbles of Tidbits) said (27 September 2010 at 12:49 pm):

    Wow, that looks so tasty!!!! Great colors too. Good luck :)


  • Alissa @ Not Just Apples said (27 September 2010 at 1:27 pm):

    What a delicious looking plate of food!

  • Casey Angelova said (28 September 2010 at 3:22 am):

    Looking forward to seeing your new props in coming rounds. Great post. Good luck in round 2.

  • Cathy said (28 September 2010 at 6:45 am):

    Even though I have a (mostly) vegan blog, I love the idea of this recipe. I would make it with olive oil instead of butter for cholesterol reasons :)

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life said (28 September 2010 at 7:10 am):

    Great flavors!
    You have one of my votes (see my entry here:

  • riceandwheat said (28 September 2010 at 10:22 am):

    Yum – That looks like something Rick Bayless would serve! :) Thanks for writing such a sweet comment on my blog and good luck in PFB, Janelle!

  • janelle (author) said (28 September 2010 at 1:44 pm):

    Amy: super thanks!
    Shelly: it WAS tasty! I plan on making it again ASAP!
    Alissa: am blushing…
    Casey: hooray for props! My most recent: falling apart rickety wood chairs…
    Cathy: I hear you; love feedback about how people adapt recipes. I hope you try it!
    Amelia: Cool beans!!
    RiceandWheat: WAY too kind;) but I love way too kind;).

  • @lickmyspoon said (29 September 2010 at 12:55 pm):

    Mashed sweet potatoes accommodate other flavors so well, don’t they? I’m particularly intrigued by the mango mojo, what else would you put it on? You’ve got a vote of ours, good luck this week!

    Lick My Spoon

  • Reeni said (30 September 2010 at 10:26 am):

    This looks positively delicious! And kind of fancy – love it! Good luck in this round – I voted for you!

  • Mexican-inspired party Menu | Talk of Tomatoes said (3 October 2010 at 5:07 pm):

    […] For this challenge I decided to cook a Mexican inspired menu (thanks to how much we loved my Ancho-Seared Swordfish), from soup to nuts. (well, actually SALAD not soup and no nuts since one of the guests was […]

  • Foodwhirl » Ancho Swordfish with Ginger-Sweet Potato Mash said (4 October 2010 at 6:51 am):

    […] Read the whole thing, and get the recipe! Ancho-seared Swordfish with Ginger-Sweet Potato Mash, sear… […]

  • Simon Keshishyan said (13 November 2010 at 7:47 am):

    Thank you , I’ll have to subscribe your site and read the rest I think. The first date my wife and I had nearly 20 years ago now was a lovely seafood restaurant in Napoli, so I’ve been spending ages trying to rediscover a decent grilled lobster recipe like we had that night – our anniversary is next month so I’m hoping to surprise her!

  • Talk of Tomatoes (new) | sweet potatoes said (17 November 2011 at 6:50 pm):

    […] Freezing: Cut sweet potatoes in 1 inch chunks and freeze uncooked; use later for roasted vegetables. Alternatively, bake then peel potatoes and save them mashed. Later, use the sweet potatoes to fill ravioli, make gnocchi or reheat/season as ‘mashed potatoes‘. […]

  • Yui said (13 May 2012 at 7:10 pm):

    Thanks for the recipe. I love sweet potato. I love ginger. Unfortunately I never tried to combine them all together. I think this is a good idea to combine them both. I hope it could work well with hot wings or even roasted chicken. Oh I really love mashed sweet potato with something peppery and hot and savory.
    How to Make Sweet Potato Fries