Cuisine Fiend

spiced monkfish

Mon, 13 June, 2016

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 tail

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 monks scrounging around the docks for free food. Hence ‘monk’ fish - probably.

Scary monster

It didn't used to be valued because he’s not a beauty, this fish. I remember seeing it for the first time (outside my dinner plate) in a fish market in France and doing a double-take (the blurriness of the image below bears testimony to my shaky hand). It's a spitting image of a mythical sea monster like the Kraken or Leviathan, whose images sometimes bear resemblance to monkfish.


Scary, ugly and tasty

It is hard 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. 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.

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 a bit tricky to prepare efficiently due to the main bone running through the middle so best left to the fishmonger, in my experience.

monkfish chunks in curried sauce

How to cook monkfish tail?

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


spiced monkfish

Servings: 2Time: 10 minutes plus chilling
Rating: (1 reviews)

  • 2 monkfish tail fillets
  • 1 tsp Korean chili powder (gochugaru)
  • ½ tsp turmeric (or 2 tsp curry powder instead of the two spices)
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2cm ginger root, peeled and chopped into small matchsticks
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • a pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp. crème fraiche
  • about 50ml chicken stock made with a stock cube or fresh
  • a little chopped parsley


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

2. Cut the fish into scallop-sized chunks. Mix the spices and salt together and dip the monkfish pieces in the mix.

3. Melt the butter 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.

Cooking spiced monkfish

4. Turn the heat up, add the crème fraiche and the stock and bubble away for another 1-2 minutes. Transfer to serving bowls or dishes and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with plain rice.

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Sally Rayson
Basa fish is also excellent in this dish
12 months ago

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