Monkfish tail medallions and monkfish cheek and pea variations
Dual personality syndrome?The monkfish is probably the ugliest fish on earth, I mean in the sea. But it is also one with the most delicate taste. Its meat is frequently compared to that of the lobster, and it is even nicknamed the lobster of the poor. Given the size of its head, it has big and delicious cheeks and those are too often ignored on this side of the Atlantic ocean. Fishmongers generally pitch the whole head without taking the time to extract those delicacies that have a lot of similarities with scallops. In fact, I personally cook them exactly like scallops. Due to its flesh texture, the monkfish is also frequently cooked like a meat, either studded with garlic cloves and roasted like a lamb leg, or stewed and prepared as a veal blanquette.
You see lobster, scallops, lamb, veal... it seems that this fish has some identity problems and suffers from a dual personality syndrome. I don't even mention its name coming from a supposed resemblance with a monk, a monk probably escaped from the Benedictine monastery in the movie The Name of the Rose! Well, its name is also multiple: Commonly named monkfish, it is also referred to as goosefish, anglerfish, allmouth (I wonder why!), molligut, fishing frog, sea-devil (the beast again!)... on top and above of its scientific name, Lophius, either Americanus or Piscatorius.
This duality exists in French too, at a different albeit very interesting level. The monkfish is named baudroie in French, but without bragging, very few people know about it!!! As a matter of fact, the fish is commonly named and quasi exclusively known as lotte... except that lotte is a culinary term that doesn't normally designate the fish, but only the tail of the fish. As an attempt to hide the monstrosity of its head?
Hiding the head?
This reminds me the answer of a fishmonger when, newly arrived in the US, I asked her why there were so few whole fish sold in the US. "Because people don't like to be starred at by a fish," she told me...
Well, the Maine's fishmongers have a more humorous theory. They claim that they cut the fish's head so that it cannot smell...
A few preliminary tipsThe monkfish is not difficult to cook... letting aside the chore of peeling and filleting it, which is something that you can leave to your fishmonger... unless you like it. I do! However, there are a few two important things that deserve some attention: the prepping and the cooking.
- The prepping: Even if you bought the "ready-to-cook" fillets at your favorite fish shop, be sure that they are prepared correctly and that most of this "second" thin skin has been removed. It is generally of a grey color, but it could be clear too. If there is some skin left, with a sharp knife, take it away, as much as you can. When cooked, it is a bit chewy and it shrinks, giving the fish a bizarre shape.
- The cooking: This is a commonplace for fish and seafood, but don't overcook it and don't brutalize it, meaning don't use high temperature. Otherwise, it will be chewy and tasteless. The good way to cook it is when the flesh just loses its translucent color for a nice and vibrant nacred white. With the recipe below, inspired by the Michelin 2-star chef Alexandre Couillon, you will be sure that it is not overcooked.
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
One full monkfish!!! Just kidding, well, not totally. I did get this whole monkfish that I peeled and filleted myself. Which allows me to get those 2 two big cheeks (the bay leaf gives you an idea of their size) of around 2 oz each, 2 fillets of 1.5 lb each, plus the heads and the trimmings that made 1 gallon of a fabulous fish broth... So, if you cannot have a whole monkfish:
- 2 monkfish fillet of around 1 lb each (you might want to keep the thin part of the tail for another dish or salad)
- 1/4 gallon of (monk)fish broth
- 1 tbsp. of butter, a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, pepper or Espelette...
- for the sides: peas, snap peas, pea shoots and ~1/4 cup of half and half
- for the sauce: 2 tbsp. of butter, 1/2 glass of dry white wine, 1/2 cup of fish broth, 1/2 lemon juice, capers, 1 tsp. of arrow powder
RecipeFor the fish fillets:
- Lightly rub each fillet with olive oil and season them (salt, pepper)
- Cut the fillets in 4 individual portions
- Tightly roll the fillets in a cooking cling wrap to give them a regular cylindrical shape
- Put the broth to boil
- When the broth boils, put the wrapped fillets in the broth and keep them out of the burner for around 10/15 minutes (to adjust depending on the diameter of your fillets). They will gently cook till the center remains translucent.
- Let them cool down before unwrapping them.
- Put them on a grid and let/pat them dry.
- Heat the butter in a pan or on a plancha, on medium/low or medium at the maximum.
- When the butter is melted, gently sear the fillets, turning them regularly, for around 5 minutes, till the outside is slightly colored and the inside turns to a nacred white color
- Before serving, possibly heat them a couple of minutes under the broil
For the fish cheeks:
- If you have the chance to have some, cook them exactly like scallops, 1 minute in medium/hot butter and olive oil on each side, and seasoned.
For the side:
- Blanch the pea shoots (keep a few as a decoration) in salted boiling water for around 1 minute, plunge them in ice water, and process them, with a couple of ice cubes (to avoid heating them and changing their color) in a high speed mixer. Add the half and half, and blend till obtaining a nicely textured coulis
- Poach the snap peas in the fish broth till cooked at your convenience
- Steam the peas in a strainer above the fish broth till cooked at your convenience (this should be around the same time as the time to poach the snap peas)
- In a pan, heat the wine and keep it to boil for 1 minute to eliminate the alcohol
- Add the broth, simmer and let reduce, lid off, for 15 minutes
- Add the lemon juice and the butter, rotating your pan to help the butter melting
- Take 2 tbsp. of this sauce and mix it with the arrow powder, then add this mixture to the sauce, stirring up vigorously to avoid lumps (otherwise, a little strainer will arrange that!)