In the Kitchen with Jeff Lambert

Grilling swordfish and asparagus with fresh herb aioli.


When Chef Jeff Lambert told me he was making fresh herb aioli on swordfish for our “In the Kitchen with …” series, I was like — game on. I love fish. Lambert loves food. And cooking. And he has since he was a kid: “My father was one of those old-fashioned macho men, and was a little worried about how interested I was in food and cooking. At first. Then I outgrilled him by the time I was 9, and he loved it. My mother and my paternal grandmother were fabulous cooks. I still do things they suggested. No one does it any better. I miss them both.”

Lambert didn’t attend culinary school, but during college he started working in a restaurant, and the rest, as they say, is history. “I got a job at a fine-dining place my freshman year. It was quite a place,” Lambert said. “I worked with a guy there who was willing to teach me. I didn’t wash dishes for long. He was a Culinary Institute of America graduate. We’re still friends to this day.”

On the Island, Lambert made his mark. “I worked at a French restaurant in Vineyard Haven called Le Grenier, which is where the Attic is now,” he said. “The upstairs was a fine-dining establishment, and the downstairs was more of a bistro and bakery. I was the cook downstairs. I did very well there. I created a different take on duck a l’orange with raspberries, and it was a hit.” It was so popular that Yankee Magazine even wrote a story on Lambert and his duck with raspberry glaze.

When his daughter was born, Lambert decided to stop working in the restaurant business. “With my son, I was never around. The restaurant business isn’t particularly conducive to family life. So I quit,” he said. “I started doing construction, which I still do off-season, as well as some caretaking. I missed cooking, but I didn’t want to go back into the restaurant business. So I went into catering.” Currently Lambert is happily working with V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons Catering and Party Design: “Jaime is a pro. She’s all about food and style.”

Luckily, to create Lambert’s fresh herb aioli and swordfish recipe, one doesn’t have to be a pro. It’s not overly complicated. And you don’t necessarily have to use swordfish. “You can use any fish that you’d put on the grill,” Lambert said. “The star is really the aioli sauce. I came up with the sauce idea about 10 years ago, based on what I had available in my garden. I also really love lemons. I use a lot of them, which is why I like preserved lemons. You use the whole lemon.”

To accompany the swordfish, Lambert chose asparagus with green onions, and boiled new potatoes with parsley. “You can put the asparagus on the grill at the same time as the fish. Sear one side of the fish, and once you flip it over, you can put the asparagus on,” he shared. “One of the reasons I like this dish is that it’s not too fussy on the timing.”

A tip Lambert shared with me is to not keep the aioli on the fish too long before grilling it: “It can be used as a marinade for chicken overnight, but I wouldn’t let it sit for longer than a half-hour on fish, because the citric acid from the lemons will begin to cook it, and you’ll end up with half-cooked fish.”

For the aioli, he combined fresh parsley, dill, and chopped basil in the food processor with about 1½ cups of good mayonnaise, six to eight roasted garlic cloves, coarse salt, and about ½ cup of chopped preserved lemons. (See Joanne Lamberts’ recipe for preserved lemons at If you don’t have preserved lemons, you can use the zest of two lemons. The aioli will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

“You want to set your grill to the highest heat. I like to put a little wood on the grill, like applewood, and let it smoke. The wood produces a nice, mild smoky taste,” Lambert said. “Put the fish on the grill, and slather it with aioli sauce.” Let it sear for about five to seven minutes. Then, when you flip it, coat that side with the aioli, and add the asparagus. “Swordfish will pretty much be done at the highest heat at around seven minutes on each side. You want to err on the side of less. Set your timer, and start checking the fish around the 10-minute mark. Stick a fork in. If it comes apart easily, it’s done.”

The smell wafting from the grill was amazing, and since we were outside in Lambert’s side yard, I kept expecting his neighbors to come bounding over, begging to know what’s cooking. When it was done, Lambert plated the fish with the new potatoes and asparagus. It looked gorgeous. Though it was a little early in the morning to partake, he asked me if I wanted to take it home for myself and my husband for dinner.

“Are you kidding?” I said. “Yes!” I’d been drooling for about 20 minutes at that point, so I had to at least try it. Delicious. The fish was tender; the asparagus was soft but not mushy; the potatoes were perfectly cooked; and Lambert’s aioli was magical — fresh, fragrant, and creamy. And best of all, it wasn’t super-complicated.

“It’s hard to go wrong with cooking if you seek out the freshest possible ingredients,” Lambert said. “Keep things simple. I’ve created some amazing meals with just fresh tomatoes and corn. And just like with anything else, if you can’t figure something out, read about it. I have an extensive cookbook collection, and I read them like books. Last, don’t take yourself too seriously. I burnt the first round of roasted garlic this morning. So what? I started early enough and made more. No big deal.”

This is such great advice. So many things in life aren’t a big deal, but I think sometimes people (like me) feel intimidated by cooking. Some of Lambert’s suggestions are: Keep it simple, use fresh ingredients, read, and relax. Doable. Oh, and lest I forget, my husband and I had a dreamy dinner that night, dining on Fresh Herb Aioli on Swordfish. I think our plates were clean in less than five minutes.

Fresh Herb Aioli on Swordfish
By Jeff Lambert

For the aioli:
1½ cups mayonnaise
½ cup parsley, dill, and basil, coarsely chopped 
8 large cloves of garlic, roasted
½ cup preserved lemon, chopped (or the zest of 2 lemons)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée. Slather on fish or chicken before grilling. Cook fish for 5 to 7 minutes on each side.

Boiled Parsleyed New Potatoes and Butter
Boil baby potatoes until done. Drain and toss with butter, salt and pepper, and freshly chopped parsley.

Grilled Asparagus with Green Onions and Minced Lemon Preserve
Toss asparagus and green onion with olive oil, minced lemon preserve, and salt and pepper. Grill until slightly charred.