Monkfish, while somewhat terrifying when pictured in its natural ocean habitat, makes for an unexpectedly tasty and easy-to-cook main course.
Belonging to the general lophius species, monkfish is a predatory bottom feeder that stays around the seafloor, preying on any fish it can fit through its large mouth—including other, smaller monkfish. There is a popular sub-species of monkfish called the lophius americanus, or American angler, which is found in the waters of the North Atlantic, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the coast off North Carolina. There are other genus, like L. Piscatorius and TK, that appear off the shores of Europe and Asia as well.
Monkfish is sold as deboned and deveined fillets in most American markets. Some overseas purveyors may also carry the head, which contains edible meat in the cheeks, and the liver, which is considered a delicacy in Japan.
Don’t let the modest monkfish’s huge head, freakish face, and rows of razor-sharp teeth put you off, however; the edible monkfish tail meat is sturdy, like lobster meat (hence its nickname, poor man’s lobster). Is is also succulent, like scallops, which makes monkfish an excellent source of protein for a main course.
A simple preparation of monkfish fillets with olive oil and lemon juice over high heat highlights the subtle, sweet flavors. Monkfish fillets are also very versatile and take well to a variety of cooking methods. Monkfish provides an ideal blank canvas to experiment with herbs, spices, oils, and more, since the flesh absorbs a variety of marinades nicely and the firm texture holds up to pan-frying, grilling, roasting, and baking. The fish, while quite lean at 3.3 grams of protein per serving, packs a delicate briny flavor that pairs well with a variety of grain or vegetable side dishes. Some complementary flavors include rosemary, baked with root vegetables, or rice, topped with the sesame seed and seaweed based Japanese seasoning furikake. Before you begin to cook monkfish, make sure to clean any errant gray veining, which is harmless but can be bothersome while chewing. The next time you’re having a dinner party, consider the humble monkfish as the centerpiece for a picture-perfect meal (paired with white wine, of course!).
SERVES: 4, PREP TIME: 30 MINUTES, COOK TIME: 20 MINUTES
2 lb. monkfish fillets
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp. lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. capers
In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, salt, and freshly ground black pepper together. Combine monkfish fillets with marinade in a sealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry monkfish fillets along with marinade for five minutes on each side, or until the color turns from translucent white to solid white. Avoid browning by lowering the heat if necessary. Place skillet with fillets in oven for ten minutes to seal flavors. Remove, top with capers, and serve over grains, legumes, pasta, or a vegetable medley—your pick.
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