A guide to sourcing, cooking and eating monkfish.
Monkfish isn’t known for being the prettiest of fish, with its mottled skin, huge flat head and gaping mouth filled with menacing teeth. However the flavour of monkfish is delicious, the flesh is flavourful, sweet, slightly buttery and about the closest fish comes to meat . As a result, it’s not cheap. Don’t, however, be tempted to buy anything but fish from a sustainable source – net-caught from Iceland is preferable.
What to look for when buying
Monkfish is usually sold in tails, fillets (steaks) or cheeks. The liver is a delicacy in Japan – known as ‘ankimo’ it’s earned the moniker ‘foie gras of the sea’. Usually monkfish flesh comes filleted with the pinkish membrane stripped away; if this hasn’t been removed pull it off before cooking or it will shrink around the meat.
As with all fish it is important to choose the freshest fish before buying - it should be firm to the touch and free of an unpleasant fishy odour. When choosing fillets of monkfish, look for pearly white flesh with no discolouration.
How to cook monkfish
Monkfish is a particularly wet fish and can excrete a milky-looking fluid when cooked; this is fine if it’s being cooked in liquid but not so great on the grill. Salting the flesh or soaking it in brine for an hour then patting it dry before use will help.
To establish whether monkfish is cooked, insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the flesh – if it’s cooked through the knife will come out hot to the touch, the flesh should also feel springy. The dark skin of monkfish should be removed before cooking, as the meat will shrink and become tough if left on during cooking. Whether cooking monkfish tail or fillet make sure that you rest the cooked fish for about 5 minutes before serving.
Cooking monkfish fillet…
When cooking a monkfish fillet, make sure that it has been pin-boned. A standard way to cook fish, pan-frying and pan-roasting take a matter of minutes and give fillets colour and flavour. An average-sized monkfish fillet (around 100g) will take around 5-6 minutes. Monkfish suits being grilled or barbecued because the robust flesh doesn’t fall apart easily. Marinating it first is a good idea, because monkfish soaks up flavours well. Monkfish is so meaty it benefits from the rich flavour of fat but poaching and steaming are healthier.
Cooking monkfish tails…
A monkfish tail has only one single bone running down the centre, which makes it easy to prepare and cook. Monkfish tails can be roasted, baked, fried, barbecued and even poached. Try cooking the tail with the bone in to keep the fish moist. When buying tails with a bone in, allow about 200g/person for a portion.
Cooking monkfish cheeks…
Monfish cheeks are considered a delicacy. They are a similar sized and texture to scallops. But before cooking remove the membrane or they will contract when cooking. The best way to cook monkfish cheeks is to simply fry them quickly in a hot pan with butter.
What to serve monkfish with
Adam Simmonds on monkfish:
When it’s cooked properly, you cut into it and it’s got the rainbow effect. It’s juicy, meaty, moist - a brilliant fish to eat. Monkfish is a neutrally flavoured fish so it works well with a wide combination of flavours.
The sweet, marine lightness of monkfish is a prized flavour and pairs nicely with many other ingredients.
Tom Aikens uses monkfish in his Fish pie recipe
as well as his brilliant Bouillabaisse
. Tomato is a favourite pairing with white fish, and monkfish is no exception. Shaun Hill rests monkfish atop a flavourful bed of tomato sauce in his Monkfish recipe with tomato, ginger and garlic
, while Alfred Prasad envelopes the fish in a spicy tomato sauce in his sumptuous Monkfish curry
Because of the meaty texture, monkfish works well when cooked in red wine or served with a red wine sauce like Chris Horridge's Monkfish and red wine jus
. A popular way of cooking monkfish is to wrap it in salty Parma-ham which not only adds great flavour but helps to keep the fillet nice and round whilst cooking.