You’ve heard all of those sayings about first impressions, right? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Beauty is only skin deep. The best form of judgment is no judgment at all.
I could go on for days, but it’s all true. How many times have you seen an attractive person with someone far less attractive and thought to yourself “What does he see in her? Or her in him?” Chances are, a lot more than you do.
Enter the monkfish, otherwise known as Lophius.
It is perhaps the ugliest, scariest looking fish that lives in the sea. But underneath that revolting exterior lies some of the most delicious flesh money can buy. Often called “The Poor Man’s Lobster”, monkfish has the sweet taste and meaty texture so similar to lobster that most people would be easily fooled.
Like lobster, the tail is where the best meat is. It can be cooked in a variety of ways: baked, fried, grilled, steamed, broiled, or poached. Caught mostly in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, the average monkfish weighs around 10 pounds at full maturity.
It’s a rare find in your average seafood market. And when you do find it, it’s commonly displayed with its head removed. It’s that hard to look at. But when I see it, I don’t see a ferocious sea monster that looks like it’s been beaten to death with an ugly stick. I see an express train to Delicioustown.
I like to cook monkfish like I do cod, halibut, or other meaty white fleshy fish. I like to poach it in butter. There’s a reason lobster is often served alongside a bowl of hot, melted butter. They just belong together.
While you can simply cook the monkfish in butter and be done with it, it’s fun to optionally bring a little heat to the dish. After all, it’s sometimes referred to as “The Devil Fish”. It only seems appropriate. If you can’t handle the heat that habaneros bring, leave them out. Paprika is hot enough for most people, but habaneros bring something special to the table.
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh red bell pepper, diced small
1/2 teaspoon fresh habanero pepper, minced
2 teaspoons hot paprika
splash of brandy
In a sauce pan, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Stir until the peppers are soft. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then puree the sauce in a blender. Return the sauce to the pan over medium heat and reduce by half.
Liberally season your monkfish pieces with salt and white pepper, then dredge each piece in flour. I like to sift my flour so it’s not clumpy. This isn’t a fish fry or KFC. We just want a fine dusting of flour on the fish.
Add one stick of butter to a frying pan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the seasoned monkfish to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes before turning. Once turned, you can start basting the fish with the melted butter in the pan. Use a spoon to gently bathe the fish in butter while the other side is cooking. Cook the fish until golden brown.
To test the fish for doneness, pierce it with a metal skewer. Allow the skewer to stay in the fish for 5 seconds, then remove it and place the skewer against your lip. If the skewer is cold, the fish needs more time. If it burns your lip, you’re overcooking the fish – and I’m sorry about your lip.
To plate the dish, pour the sauce onto the plate until you have a round disk of sauce. Place the fish in the middle of the sauce. Drizzle a little remaining sauce over the fish if you like.
That’s Monkfish Diablo. And if you end up using those habanero peppers, remember to place a roll of toilet paper in the freezer for tomorrow morning.
Bon Appetit, and always eat with an open mind.