Known in various cooking circles as the “poor man’s lobster”, the monkfish is quite possibly the ugliest thing to be plucked from the ocean floor and later be served up on dining room tables all around the world. If you don’t believe me, just go do a Google image search and type in “monkfish”. If you dig deep enough, there’s a pretty famous picture of the dearly departed Julia Child struggling with one that almost seems to be as big as she is.
Go ahead, it’s okay, I’ll wait…
/me hums a tune and drums his fingers on his desk….dum-de dum dum…
Are you back yet? Do you see what I mean? There goes a face only a mother could love but being as they’re fish, I doubt they really care in the first place.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Much like the fresh water catfish and their salt water companions the flounder, monkfish are what are known as bottom dwellers. That means they aren’t too picky about what they eat and they like to burrow themselves into the soft ocean sand and snack on anything (either dead or alive) that comes their way. Besides having a huge mouth that usually swallows their prey whole, they have one of those distensible stomachs that can stretch to fit the size of almost whatever it is they’re dining on.
When it comes to commercial fishing, monkfish were usually dredged up in a practice called driftnet fishing and originally tossed back over the side because of their ghastly appearance. Some them grow up to five feet long and they can weigh in at over fifty pounds. When you stop to consider that almost a third of that is its head and the rest of its brownish body seems to be covered in some kind of goo or slime, well, you can get a good idea of just how ugly they might be.
Tastes Like Chicken?
For once, it seems like the answer to that is no. I don’t know who the first person was to say “Hey, lets eat this fucker and see what it tastes like” but I’m willing to bet there was alcohol involved because if it was based on looks alone, nobody in their right mind would touch it. After all, only the tail section is edible, it’s not like you can filet it like your normal fish fare. Wait, I take that back, it seems that monkfish liver is quite popular in Japanese cuisines.
But first, a little story before dinner…
The first time I saw a whole monkfish was when I was in Seattle on some business. I had some spare time on my hands and took a stroll down to the Pike Place Market where the catch of the day was always on display. As I passed one stand I saw a fish that had its mouth propped open and was covered about two thirds of the way with ice. Being a curious type I went to inspect a little closer and with the urging of the proprietor took a look down its gaping maw.
That’s when the goddamn fish seemed to come alive and jump back with a real quick motion. Needless to say I was scared shitless but it seems I was a victim of a common prank that is played on tourists by the shop’s owners. They cleverly tied the ugly bastard's tail with a string and when people come to get a closer look they give it quick tug. The result is quite funny. After making sure I didn’t wet myself, I began asking questions about the fish itself and was told that it made for some good eats. At first, I thought they were bullshitting me but as it turns around, they were right.
The meat from the tail is much like the meat from a lobster tail both in texture and in flavor. It’s thick, dense and sweet and can either be cooked up whole or cut up into chunks for your favorite chowder or seafood salad. Unlike whole lobster or lobster meat, monkfish is much less expensive. Monkfish meat goes for anywhere between nine and ten bucks a pound. When it comes to actually eating it, I’m pretty simple, I like to brush the whole tail with melted butter, add a bit of salt and pepper and pop it into a pre-heated 450 degree oven for about ten or fifteen minutes or so and then dig-in.
Trust me, if you like lobster, you’ll like this.
Oh, one last thing, for those folks who are members of the Jewish faith and follow their dietary laws and customs, monkfish are not considered kosher due to their reputation as scavengers. Too bad, they're awfully tasty.