Monkfish may look like monsters from the deep, but their dense, mildly flavored meat have made them a favorite with seafood lovers around the world. Monkfish was considered a trash fish until the 1980s when Julia Child prepared it on her cooking show. This versatile fish can be prepared using a variety of seasonings and cooking techniques. When monkfish is unavailable, many types of firm, white, mild fish and shellfish can be substituted.
Monkfish are a type of anglerfish. They live on the bottom of the ocean floor trawling for lobsters and scallops with their large, gaping mouths. They are mainly fished from the North Atlantic and are available year-round in the United States. On the East Coast they are often caught by scallop harvesters. Monkfish tails are typically found in most markets as a whole piece or fillets; whole monkfish are rarely available.
Only the flesh of the tail and liver are eaten; the rest of the fish is discarded. The tail weighs from 1 to 4 pounds and the skin in inedible. The tail’s firm, mild meat can stand up to bold seasonings and works well with flavorful marinades and sauces. Monkfish can be sauteed, broiled or grilled. It also holds up well cooked in stews, soups and chowders.
Monkfish have firm, white flesh with a mild, sweet flavor. It can stand up to meaty applications such as Italian saltimbocca and osso bucco. In Spain, monkfish is served in paella and with Romesco sauce. The flesh is good for making a rich stock for fish soups and stews and is a classic ingredient in the French seafood soup bouillabaisse. Monkfish goes well with Mediterranean flavors of oregano, fennel and olive oil; Asian ingredients daikon and ponzu sauce and chiles, corn and cilantro in Latin dishes. Other flavor mates include celery, shallots, onions, scallions, oranges, lemons, limes, tomatoes and white wine.
Monkfish is often called “poor man’s lobster.” In fact, monkfish is a budget-friendly stand-in for lobster, especially in salads and soups. Because of the similarity in flavor and texture, lobster makes a luxurious substitute for monkfish. Shrimp and scallops also have firm, dense, mildly sweet flesh and can be substituted for monkfish.
Firm, white, mild fish that can be cut into thick fillets are the best substitutes for monkfish. Angel fish most closely resembles monkfish although they are not related. Angel fish is comparable in weight and yield and can be prepared using the same cooking methods as monkfish. Grouper, red snapper, black cod (sablefish), striped bass, tilefish, turbot, orange roughy, Alaskan Pollock, sturgeon, hake (whiting) can also replace monkfish in a variety of recipes. These types of fish fare well with the same cooking techniques used for monkfish.
- “Field Guide to Seafood: How to Identify, Select and Prepare Virtually Every Fish and Shellfish at the Market”; Aliza Green; 2007
- “Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood”; Paul Johnson; 2007
- “How to Cook Everything”; Mark Bittman; 2008
Alissa Pond Mentzer worked in biotech research and educational publishing before becoming a freelance writer in 2005. She has contributed to textbooks for The Mcgraw-Hill Companies and National Geographic School Division and writes science articles for various websites. Mentzer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in anthropology and biological sciences.