Spanish Braised Monkfish

23rd Oct 2006

ls ugliest monkfish 02

One of the many things that happens when you cook often and with whole ingredients is that you start to face up to the creatures you are eating.  When I roast a chicken at 500 degrees, handling its raw flesh and trussing it, and then take a large knife to its carcass, I still understand that this was once a feathered bird that bid its life on some farm, whether that was indoors or out.  I'm okay with this.  As an avowed meat eater,  I’ve cracked open crabs that were just alive the moment before, de-tailed a lobster, filleted a red snapper, and thrown pounds and pounds of mussels into hot water.  This is all good--it's important to understand what you're eating.  But what happens when the animal you are cooking is one of the ugliest creatures on the planet ?

Its picture is revolting, worse than any monster drawn up for screen.  Seriously ,there's a horror movie out there ready to be made, something about a giant monkfish that 12th century monks buried after making a deal with God, but now it's back to life and moving fast and approaching the East Coast...and it's pissed off.

In real life, it’s huge and menacing, and lays on the ocean floors in the mud.  I know catfish ain’t the model of civility, but this makes that slimy fish look like a princess. So how can I picture slicing through pounds of this meat, and not have its ugly mug staring back at me?  Should I just get rid of my whole philosophy because I'm too scared?

Luckily it tastes good.  Like salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish, this isn’t a dainty little fish to be served with some slinky white wine.  The full texture of the fish makes it perfect for simmering with equally flavorful sauces.   We found a Spanish recipe and dove right into it.

The sauce in this recipe piles on the flavors, and then you're asked to dump the whole thing in a blender to puree.  Right before we got ready to do this, it tasted like we were in store for a mind-boggling event.  Unfortunately, when blended, it loses some of its strength.  We are not quite sure why--it might be because some of the water in the vegetables seeps out and lessens the strength.  It turned the thing soupy.  Anyway, consider skipping the blend step.  Otherwise, this is flavorful and classic and light, yet still robust and mean, as the monkfish himself would probably prefer.

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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds monkfish, membranes removed, fish cut to make 4 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Adapted from here .

monkfish 01

Remove the membrame from the fish by lifting with your fingers and slipping a paring knife under to cut it away.

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Heat the oil and salt over medium heat.  This really helps the flavor, seasoning at this early stage.  It was a new technique and we liked it.

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Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook until soft, 5 minutes.  Pour in the sherry and garlic and cook for another minute.  Then pour in the clam juice, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

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Transfer the contents to a blender and puree (optional).  Add the slivered almonds and blend some more.

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Return the sauce to the pan and bring to a simmer.

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Lay the monkfish into the pan and braise by simmering for 10 minutes.

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Remove the fish.  We made some quick yellow rice, but any kind of rice would do.  Pour the sauce over the fish and top with some parsley.  Alternatively, especially if you used the blender, serve in wide, shallow bowls as a kind of stew.


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