Monkfish might be the closest thing to a sea monster that’s served in fancy restaurants. In stores, monkfish are available in approachable fillets, but for this episode of Fresh Catch, Adam Geringer-Dunn of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. brought in a whole one from the market and showed us how to handle it.
Monkfish have huge heads, the better for (their own) eating. Monkfish attract prey with a small fishing rod above their mouth. When the rod lures smaller fish in close, the monkfish opens up its terrifying mouth and chomps down. The fish have two rows of very sharp teeth, and they’ll eat anything, including smaller monkfish. Because the head is mostly inedible (and a little intimidating), it’s usually removed before the fish makes it to market. However, if you know where to look, there’s some good meat to be found on the cheeks.
To harvest the cheek meat, start by cutting away the monkfish skin, which is thick and inedible. The cheeks are located under the eyes; they’ll feel like large soft patches on an otherwise bony monkfish face. Geringer-Dunn freed the cheeks by cutting around the soft patches with a sharp knife.
The rest of the useable meat is in the monkfish tail. Separate the monkfish head with a heavy knife, and remove the skin. There will will be two thick fillets on either side of a spine. After the fillets are cut away from the spine, they’re all meat.
Cooked monkfish doesn’t flake like most fish: They’re juicy, with a nice bite and a texture similar to that of a cooked lobster. Flavor-wise, the fish is very mild, so it’s receptive to many different preparations. It’s particularly delicious with bright, acidic sauces. For a quick preparation, Geringer-Dunn seared up the monkfish cheeks and some pieces of the fillet in a hot pan with butter and oil, and finished them with a simple sauce of lemon, capers, and butter.
To see this process in action, check out the video above. For more lessons in seafood, head to Eater’s Facebook page Thursdays at 11 a.m. to catch new episodes of Fresh Catch. Each week Geringer-Dunn will walk live viewers through preparation of a sustainable fish, mollusk, crustacean, or bivalve.