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Spiced monkfish

Updated: Tue, 7 February, 2023

Monkfish is as ugly a beast as tasty its flesh is. It's a lovely firm fish that can take on hefty flavours and is simply exquisite in the company of saffron, ginger and curry seasoning.

spiced monkfish

Why is monkfish called 'monkfish'?

Does it look like a monk? Not really, unless like a very ugly, very scary monk. Apparently it used to be held in such low esteem by fishermen, it used to be either thrown away or given away to poor monks scrounging around the docks for free food. Hence possibly the name, ‘monk’ fish, derives.

It didn't used to be valued much because this fish, he’s not a beauty. I remember seeing it for the first time (outside my dinner plate) in a fish market in France and doing a double-take. Fish market is generally not a place of great aesthetical value, but – wow! This thing was something else.

In my view it's a spitting image of a mythical sea monster like the Kraken or Leviathan, or anything else out of Pirates of the Caribbean.


Scary, ugly and tasty

It is now hard for us to believe monkfish used to be chucked out or given away; it is a very highly prized fish these days. And as these things usually work, it is expensive because it’s overfished.

Hopefully, thanks to sustainability measures undertaken around the Cornish coast the stocks are increasing. Which is good news as it’s very tasty and very versatile, though it has to be pointed out that it may contain moderate levels of mercury and so not recommended in pregnancy.

Some compare the flesh to that of a lobster because it's firm, succulent and meaty. Thus it gets to be called ‘poor man’s lobster’ but pound for pound, depending on where you are, you might have to cough up the same for your dinner, whether you go for lobster or the fish.

spicy monkfish in creamy sauce

Monkfish is a tail

The fish are basically a tasty tail (a bit like lobster tail, reinforcing the comparisons) attached to an enormous gaping mouth. It is easy to prepare efficiently as there is only the main bone running through the middle, easy to extract with a sharp knife.

But supermarkets and fishmongers often offer it boneless, ready to cook.

It is commonly grilled wrapped in bacon but I find the fish vastly overcooked by the time the bacon turns crispy. My favourite method if fast and spicy, as below.

The main tip for preparing it is to salt it. The flesh is firm but it does have a very high water content so the fillet needs sitting under a salt sprinkling for at least half an hour, before rinsing and drying.

curried monkfish

How to season monkfish tail?

The spices to season the fish are turmeric and gochugaru, the Korean chilli powder mix, my personal favourite chilli powder. It’s not numbingly hot and it has beautiful smoky and fruity notes.

Mixed with turmeric for the vibrant colour, it gives the dish the curry-like spiciness without the overpowering curry scent which I am not a huge fan of. But if you are one and can’t get hold of gochugaru, by all means replace it with curry powder, as suggested in the ingredients list.

preparing monkfish

Cooking spiced monkfish

Chunks of monkfish coated in the spice mix land into foaming butter in the skillet, with the company of thinly sliced shallots and ginger. It only takes a minute to cook the fish on one side so you don’t even need to stir the aromatics.

Saffron is and optional extra but I adore the fragrance when it hits the hot butter so it’s worth it to spare a pinch. When the fish is turned over, a little stock or wine is added together with some crème fraiche to bubble away into gorgeous sauce.

I love it with a generous piece of baguette to dip in the sauce, but the more orthodox accompaniment will probably be plain steamed or boiled rice.

cooking spiced monkfish

More fish recipes

Fish poached in butter: use halibut or another firm fish for a real treat. No, the fish is not greasy. Yes, you can reuse the butter.

An easy tray bake, cod and potatoes, is a bit like deconstructed and healthier fish and chips.

This recipe for salt and pepper halibut is also great with monkfish. Easy, healthy and tasty.

And if you didn’t think fish can be successfully stir fried, try my Thai fish stir fry recipe.

spicy skillet monkfish


spiced monkfish

Servings: 2Time: 10 minutes plus chilling
Rating: (7 reviews)

  • 2 monkfish tail fillets, deboned
  • fine sea salt
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cm ginger root
  • 1 tsp Korean chili powder (gochugaru)
  • ½ tsp turmeric (or 2 tsp curry powder instead of the two above spices) 
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • a pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp crème fraiche
  • about 100ml chicken stock
  • a little chopped parsley, for garnish


1. Monkfish needs firming up before cooking, otherwise it releases a lot of water whilst being cooked. Sprinkle the fillets generously with salt, chill for at least half an hour then rinse off the salt and pat dry.

2. In the meantime peel and finely dice the shallot. Peel the ginger and cut it into thin matchsticks.

3. Cut the fish into generous bite-sized chunks. Mix the gochugaru, turmeric and ½ tsp salt together and dip the monkfish pieces in the mix.

4. Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the monkfish pieces, the diced shallot and ginger and cook for a minute. Sprinkle the saffron over the dish and turn the monkfish pieces over.

5. Turn the heat up, add the crème fraiche and the stock and bubble away for another 1-2 minutes.

6. Transfer to serving bowls or dishes and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with plain rice.

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Mary - thank you for trying the recipe. It will go very well with prawns too!
8 months ago
Wonderful! I will try this sauce with other fish, maybe even prawns.
8 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Sonia - thank you. And what a great idea to do it with salmon!
9 months ago
delicious! had to sop up every last drop of sauce. had to use aleppo pepper instead of gochugaru which worked perfectly. making it again this week, with salmon this time.
9 months ago
A mumford
Cooked this before very tasty.
10 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi M - thank you!
11 months ago
M scanlon
Followed the directions and everything turned out just fine. If you like it spicier just up the red pepper.
11 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Cindy - thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. The first portion of salt should be rinsed off as its purpose is only to firm up the fish so the end product shouldn't be too salty but of course it's the matter of taste.
2 years ago
This was fabulous. I used the curry version and sour cream for the crème fresh. Loved it. But a bit salty as stated below. Will make this again!! Thank you
2 years ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Steve, thank you! Prawns sound a great idea.
2 years ago
Great recipe, lovely flavour, too much salt for my taste, recommend salting the pan as needed and not the pepper/turmeric rub. Added a few prawns which complimented the dish.
2 years ago
Sally Rayson
Basa fish is also excellent in this dish
3 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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