Wednesday, August 18, 2010
With a succulent, firm texture and a fine, slightly sweet flavour, monkfish invites comparison with other 'luxury' seafoods such as lobster and scallops. Unfortunately monkfish has become so popular that there is now concern over stock levels. Full card-carrying ethical consumers may want to avoid monkfish altogether.
It is a particularly versatile fish, well-suited to many different treatments.
Monkfish has long featured in regional dishes of the Iberian Peninsula and (to a lesser degree) France. There are scant historical references to monkfish being eaten in the UK before the mid-twentieth century, but its popularity here has exploded in the last 20 - 30 years. It is now highly sought after by fishing vessels in the waters around southwest England, western Ireland and western Scotland.
The European monkfish - Lophius piscatorius - lives largely in coastal waters from northern Europe through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. It is a demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish, found at an unusually wide range of depths; from relatively shallow waters to more than a kilometre deep.
It is a rather grotesque looking fish comprising of a huge head and mouth attached to a long tail. Also known as the anglerfish, it has a flexible filament growing from its head and ending in a piece of bioluminescent tissue (known as an esca) which it dangles in front of its mouth as a bait. It even has a spare fishing-rod which grows its own esca should its primary one be bitten off. A voracious predator, its diet mainly consists of other fish but it is known to occasionally catch seabirds.
Monkfish is low in calories and a good source of protein. It contains useful amounts of vitamin B3 (required for proper functioning of the metabolic system), potassium (controls the balance of fluids in the body) and selenium (an antioxidant that also helps the immune system).
The main edible part of the monkfish is its tail. This has usually been separated from the rest of the fish by the time it reaches the supermarket or fishmonger's (presumably due to the head's ugliness and/or unwieldy size) and so you may not be able to rely on the usual visual indicators for fresh fish (bright, unsunken eyes and moist, shiny scales). Buy from a trusted supplier and use your sense of smell to be sure of the freshest monkfish.
After purchase, keep monkfish well chilled and use within 24 hours (or freeze for up to 3 months).
Remove the skin and membrane (or ask your fishmonger to do this). The tail has a single bone running down its centre, making it easy to prepare and eat. The tail yields two fillets that can be cooked whole or cut into chunks. Alternatively, cut the whole tail across the bone into medallions (cooking fish on-the-bone can enhance succulence and flavour).
Excellent results can be obtained with a variety of cooking methods. Pan-fry in a little hot oil for 2-3 minutes on each side, or roast in a hot oven (220°C) for around 30 minutes until firm to the touch. Monkfish is also delicious when poached, steamed or barbecued.
In sushi restaurants, ankimo is a highly esteemed delicacy made from monkfish liver; a sort of Japanese foie gras.