It’s a good thing that as consumers, we don’t have to stare down the face of a monkfish too often. With a broad face and a wide mouth filled with rows of sharp teeth that point inwards (to trap and eat their prey), they’re almost frighteningly ugly. Lucky for us, they taste good. What else do we know about these homely creatures?
Monkfish habits and habitat
Monkfish, also known as sea-devils or frog-fish, are in the anglerfish family. While they can be found worldwide, monkfish are often found in the Atlantic Ocean, along the Eastern Seaboard from Canada to the Carolinas.
Deep sea fish (aka benthic species), monkfish live close to the ocean floor, where they look for food by slowly dragging themselves along on their pectoral fin.
They’re typically caught by trawlers along with other groundfish like haddock and flounder. But before they’re scooped up for market, these bottom dwellers attract prey of all kinds by luring creatures toward them with an antennae on their head. They’re indiscriminate predators who will trap species from squid and shrimp to seabirds and other fish behind their teeth.
Monkfish can be long-living: adult females can live to be 14 years old, while a typical male monkfish lives to about seven years. The females spawn from February to October, releasing veils of up to 1 million eggs at a time.
Monkfish cheeks and livers are often marketed to chefs and restaurants, but for the average retail customer, monkfish tail is the most commonly available cut. The tails have a firm, springy texture and a mildly sweet flavor that’s often compared to lobster (hence the nickname poor man’s lobster). Whitish-grey in color, they often come with an outer membrane still attached (at Wulf’s we remove these) - it’s a good idea to peel those off before cooking.
Cooking with monkfish
Monkfish’s firm texture stands up well to a number of different preparations. The single bone down the center of the tail helps regulate the temperature during cooking, giving cooks a little more flexibility in terms of how they choose to prepare the fish. High and dry heat is easier with monkfish than with fish with more delicate texture - you can almost treat it as you would a roast tenderloin.
Whether you roast the fish and finish it with a hearty sauce, split the tail and grill it, or cut up the meat and include the monk chunks in a spicy fish stew - once it’s cooked, monkfish gets transformed from homely to gorgeous.