Monkfish are huge, ugly and incredibly tasty. I first came face to face with one in Akita Prefecture last year (more on that below). Today I got to watch Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame dramatically offer this fish as the sacrificial lamb of his demonstration at the annual StarChefs Congress.
According to the presentation's host, monkfish are a sustainable species, although one that's not very popular in the USA. I've only seen the loin for sale, for instance, very occasionally. In Japan, however, the entire fish is a prized delicacy, especially the liver. For good reason.
With his fish, Chef Morimoto demonstrated his cooking, his deftness with his knives -- the hallmark of a Japanese chef -- and the versatility of monkfish, from which he prepared six dishes. Because they're too slippery to cut on a flat cutting surface, the chef hung his on a hook to work on it. He started by tearing off the monfish's skin like he was pulling off a snug wetsuit, then began to butcher with a heavy deba knife.
Like everything else in Japanese cuisine, very little of the monkfish is wasted. As Morimoto broke the fish, his assistants rinsed and blanched the gills and skin, and stuffed the liver into the stomach lining and poached it. Morimoto sliced off the loins, and wrapped one in three long ribbons of forest green ma kombu, like a huge sushi roll.
Morimoto stuck the kombu-wrapped loin in a tray of preheated stones, covering it with more stones, and put the tray in the oven at 500 degrees for forty minutes so the radiant heat of the stones could circulate through the loin.
Once the liver and stomach were poached, he cooled it down in an ice bath. The skin had shrunk by half after blanching. Morimoto sliced it up, and noted that it contains a lot of collagen.
Okay, dish number one: A salad of cubed buffalo mozzarella, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, sliced monkfish skin and monkfish liver, dressed with pepper, olive oil and shoyu. "Japanese style caprese salad," Morimoto said. He composed the salad on a glass plate and grated a little yuzu peel to finish. Simple and delicious.
Dish number two: Morimoto trimed the monkfish gills, dusted with flour and deep fried. "Very good with beer," he explained.
Dish number three: Slices of the liver and stomach topped with spicy ponzu with red radish and finished with julienned scallion. "Chomuro age" I believe is what it's called in Japan (is that right, my Japanese-speaking readers?)
Dish number four: Monkfish hotpot (anko nabe) with monkfish parts, monkfish liver, dashi with shinshu miso. Morimoto added heavy cream -- yes, thick, white heavy cream, his twist on this traditional dish -- and a touch of sake, before covering and cooking.
Dish number five: Morimoto combined monkfish liver, shoyu, and squeezes of fresh sudachi citrus into a "monkfish ponzu," as he called it. He then sliced the other loin as sashimi, added pieces of skin for texture, and topped it with chives and the sauce. As a finishing touch he spooned hot oil over the sashimi to slightly cook the surface and bring out the aromas of the fish and condiments.
Dish number six: Remember the kombu-wrapped loin inside the hot rocks? Now Morimoto pulled the tray out of the oven, splashed sake on top (producing a nice, dramatic cloud of steam, naturally) and unwrapped the fish. He touched his chopsticks to the flesh then put them to his lips to gauge temperature. He presented it with wedges of sudachi and some of the hot stones.
(Talking to Morimoto's business partner, who happened to be sitting next to me, I learned that this hot rocks technique also works wonderfully with tai, halibut or other white fish.)
Now, what about the monkfish I met in Akita Prefecture last year? While reporting a story on Tohoku, Japan's far north, I spent a few days with a wonderful chef in a tiny fishing port on the Oga Peninsula. He graciously showed me how to break a monkfish -- and then served me the most amazing monkfish hotpot on the planet. Here are two videos I took of him in action. Warning: They're not for the squeamish. (Sorry they're shot so terribly!)
|From Monkfish Movies|
|From Monkfish Movies|