“You came in this morning and handled me like a piece of meat,
You have to be a man to know how good that feels.”
A line that, it turns out, could have as easily been spoken by a monkfish as by a songwriting legend of a Jewish poet of a beaut of a 70-something year old man (that’s Mr Leonard Cohen for those still chatting down the back).
It was the first day of the second week of school today, and – having cooked up a tropical storm of an Indian-influenced lunch (with recipes courtesy of Ananda‘s Sunil Ghai and Benares‘ Atul Kochar, both critically acclaimed and award-winning chefs in their own jurisdictions) which included naan breads and chutneys, aloo tikka, spiced yoghurt marinated chicken with lots of sides, and a ginger-spiced almond and pear cake – we settled into an afternoon demo of Tuesday’s culinary forays.
Monkfish is on the menu tomorrow, and John Wyer is generously sharing a rather clever little take on beouf Bourguignon, in which he replaces the beouf with lotte, that fearsome looking fish known in English as monkfish.
Fish? With a gutsy red wine sauce loaded with veal jus and swimming with earthy mushrooms and fiesty onions? Bien sur! Besides being one of the meatier fishes going in terms of texture, monkfish also pairs especially well with red meat: indeed, John was pleased with previous renditions of monkfish with oxtail, and I can imagine the contrast of firm fish and melting meat working very well indeed.
Until lately monkfish was more likely to be thrown back out of the net for its rather unendearing, toothy grin than to be considered quite the catch for its toothsome texture and its ability to stand up to robust flavour pairings. Yet despite its appeal to even those diners for whom other fish can be a challenge, monkfish can remain something of a challenge for cooks who insist on treating it like any other fish.
The trick, John reckons, is to treat it like a piece of meat, or a beef steak to be specific. By that he means the following:
- Get your pan good and smoking: this tough customer can handle a bit of heat.
- Don’t be shy with the oil, you want to aim to sear the flesh and lots of very hot oil is just the job.
- Once the fish is in the pan, leave it be for long enough to allow some tasty carmelisation to crust up on one side. When that has happened, flip it, and back off again.
- Once it has browned up nicely on both sides (a couple of minutes should do it) lash the pan into a hot oven to pan-roast for another four to six minutes, depending on the thickness of each individual fillet.
- Remember that neither underdone nor overdone will do, but that while you can doctor the former diagnoses, there’s no hope for the latter.
- When you think your piece of meat, I mean fish, is getting there, remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a couple more minutes.
- At this point you can check the texture for clues: press a finger into the flesh. Does it feel light and springy, and does the indentation bounce back in a lively fashion? Sounds about cooked. Does it feel spongy and heavy and take its time fleshing back out again? It probably needs a little more heat in it.
- If it does need more cooking, you can happily finish it in the pan on the stovetop.
Hopefully with the above approach, you can avoid turning people off this versatile fish by serving them up chewy, tight, dried out fillets that are way more work to eat than they warrant.
One final curious tip: monkfish is one of the very few fish that actually improves with a little maturity. Fresh out of the water, the flesh itself is too full of water to sear nicely in a hot pan. Instead it spits water and dries out and toughens up. Ask your monger when it was caught, and allow a day or two’s reprise before putting it on the menu.