Do you hate that fishy taste? Are you a lobster lover but just can’t afford it? Well what if we told you that there is a fish out there that isn’t fishy but instead is meaty and is known as the poor man’s lobster? Guess what? It exists!
Otherwise known as the sea-devil, the monkfish is truly a remarkable creature (and yummy food source). Don’t let its ugly looks scare you – and whoa Nelly is it ugly – this big fat fish is considered one of the tastiest in the ocean.
If you’ve never heard of monkfish or you have but don’t know much about it, you’ve come to the right place boys and girls! This is the ultimate guide to monkfish.
Here you will find everything you need to know about what it is, what it tastes like, how to cook it, and where to find it. So just sit back, get your taste buds ready, and prepare to be convinced to give monkfish a try.
Monkfish Are Notoriously Ugly
Just look at this ugly son-of-a-gun. It doesn’t look all that appetizing when it’s dragged out from the muddy ocean floor. In fact, you can’t even eat most of it, especially its gigantic head. Some folks call it an “all-mouth” because it is basically all mouth! This is a big fish too. Adults can be up to four and a half feet long.
However, most of that is inedible. When you eat a monkfish fillet, what you’re actually eating is its meaty, muscular tail fin which alone can weigh up to four pounds. It’s technically an angelfish but it doesn’t have scales. It also changes color to blend in with its environment which again, is usually somewhere buried in mud underneath some boat wreckage on the sea floor. Hiding in the dark like the predator that it is, it stuns its prey with a poisonous lure on top of its head.
As a carnivore, it eats all kinds of other fish like cod, lobster, scallops, mackerel, herring, and sea bass – but don’t be surprised to pull out bits of trash from the ocean when you rip its guts out. Every now and then they make it to the surface to snatch some seagull or puffin that happened to land on the water near its feeding grounds, but generally they stay deep underwater.
What Does a Monkfish Taste Like?
Monkfish may look like slime scraped off of the bottom of your shoe but it tastes pretty fancy. Its taste is similar to that of fois gras and its texture is similar to lobster. Want to cook something special without paying lobster or liver pate prices – monkfish! It's used as a popular and highly celebrated Korean dish called CHUEOTANG 추어탕 aka Mudfish Soup.
Not everyone likes fish because of the texture and fishy taste. Monkfish is very mild like cod and other crustaceans so no fishy taste to it. Because of that, it is perfect for stews, chowders, and paella where it can absorb marinades, sauce, and seasonings. But it is also the best fish for grilling and broiling; since its meat is firm, it won’t fall apart when you cook it well like most other fish.
In other countries they eat other parts of the monkfish besides the tail. For instance, in Spain, monkfish cheeks and livers are pan fried into an entrée. In Japan, monkfish liver is used to make sashimi or served with vegetables to create ankimo. You can plunk the head in water to create soup stock too
Is Monkfish safe to eat
About a decade ago, people were warned to steer clear of monkfish when the FDA thought it discovered that monkfish may actually be a puffer fish. Puffer fish is poisonous to humans because they produce tetrodotoxin, which is lethal. That warning has since been removed and monkfish is perfectly safe to eat.
When is Monkfish Season
Actually, if you live in the U.S., you can have monkfish anytime! There is no limit to the number of monkfish you can snag nor is there a limit to the size of monkfish that you can keep. Hunting season for monkfish is open from Jan. 1 to December 31 – in other words, year-round.
Where to Catch Monkfish
Monkfish are mostly found in the North Atlantic right off of America’s New England coastline. Great states to trawl for monkfish include Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, even some parts of North Carolina. There are other places where you will find monkfish at certain times of the year besides New England.
If you live near Newfoundland, or England’s southern coast up to Scotland’s northern coast, or on Ireland’s western shores, you have access to monkfish. Rarer sightings of monkfish occur in the Mediterranean and some have ventured south to the Gulf of Mexico and Barbados. There is even a type of monkfish found in Europe called the L. piscatorius found around the Shetland Islands.
When trawling for monkfish, you have to go deep – like 3,000 feet deep! That’s why most monkfish that you buy in the stores and restaurants were rounded up commercially. It’s tough business trying to find these hidden creatures recreationally. It’s a good thing too.
Commercial fishers of monkfish are able to pretty them up before you see them by chopping off their heads and gutting them so that they don’t look like slug slime but rather pretty fish fillets. Not to mention the fact that recreational fishers have to be very careful with them. These fish bite with those crazy sharp inverted teeth of theirs!
How to Remove the Monkfish Membrane
Before you can cook and eat a monkfish (if you caught it yourself) you have to remove the membrane. It’s that purple looking slime attached to its skin. It actually tears away pretty easily but getting to the membrane is the tricky part. You will need a high quality and very sharp fish fillet knife to do this right.
Experts recommend beginning at the tail after you’ve cleaned and dried the monkfish. You’ll need to slice a small slit in the skin with your fillet knife and then use your fingers to grab a piece of the membrane which will be attached to the skin.
Once you’ve got a grip on a piece of membrane slide your fish fillet blade between the membrane and the skin. Using a sweeping motion from side to side with the knife angled upward just a little bit, work your way down to the skinny part of the tail. You should have about a half an inch of membrane between your fingers.
Repeat this step until all of the membrane is removed from the tail; slicing the membrane from the skin and pulling it out in wide half inch strips with your fingers. Next, turn the monkfish around and start working your way from the tail toward the head using the same back and forth sweeping motion with your fillet knife and pulling the membrane away.
Once you reach the top of the fish where the head used to be, all that should remain is the membrane strip attached to the spine. You’ll need to slice a small slit along the spine and then cut the membrane away from the spine. All done – now you’re ready to get cooking!
How to Grill Monkfish
Usually when you cook a fish to well done, it’s going to crumble and break into pieces, losing its shape. Monkfish is not like your typical fish (in more ways than one). It cooks like lobster, crab, and shrimp. Its tail is made of meaty meat, not fishy meat so you can grill it, flip it, and it won’t fall apart on you.
At the same time, you don’t want to overcook monkfish either. It won’t fall apart like typical fish but it will toughen up and become rubbery when it’s overcooked but you do want it to be well done. There is a method to grilling monkfish so that it comes out just right. Here’s what you need to know.
First, you don’t want flames lapping out of the grill the way you would do for a steak or ribs. No, if the grill is too hot, monkfish will cook too fast on the outside and you end up with a charred fish that is undercooked in the middle. Either make a smaller fire using less charcoal or wait for the flames to die down to the point where you can hold your hand over the grill grates for a few seconds before you have to pull your hand away.
Secondly, you have to time it right. You will want to grill each side with the lid down for between four minutes and ten minutes, depending on how brown you want the outside to be.
Third you want to keep some melted butter on hand as you grill to keep it from drying out. As you cook, make sure to moisten the outside with butter before it gets too dry.
You can also use bacon wrapped around the monkfish to keep it moist and to add some flavor to it while it grills. Another way to prepare monkfish is to chop it up into chunks and grill them. That way you can see when the inside is cooked.
If you want to bring the lobster texture out of your monkfish, marinate it for a few hours before you grill it. Use the marinade to baste and only grill for about six minutes per side. Melt some butter to use as a dipping sauce and there you have your poor man’s lobster!
Is Monkfish sustainable
There is no shortage of monkfish which is the reason why there are no limits to when and where you can fish for it. Each year, fishers in New England bring in up to ten thousand tons of monkfish for sell with room for more. So much so that last year, New England’s Fishery Management Council approved a 50% increase in the amount of monkfish commercial fishers can bring in, raising that number to fifteen thousand tons.
Monkfish is one of the most sustainable fishes in the ocean. Female monkfish release a million eggs each year. It takes a while for them to reach maturity (about four years) and females can live up to the age of 13 in the wild.
Regulators and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) keep an eye on the amount of fish being hauled in commercially to prevent overfishing. According to NOAA, monkfish is not endangered or even being overfished.
The Best Monkfish Substitutes
Perhaps you live in a place where monkfish is unavailable, at least some parts of the year, or is too expensive to get where you live. For you folks, we found some monkfish substitutes of similar crustaceans as well as firm and mild fish.
Say you’re making some paella or gumbo or fish stew that calls for monkfish. You can easily get the same flavor and texture by swapping in shrimp or scallops in place of monkfish for basically the same results.
However, if it is a fish you want and you can’t find monkfish anywhere, there are similar fish that may do the trick for you. You don’t want thin or flat fish but you definitely want white fish which is usually milder. Look for thick fish fillets in the angelfish family. Those fish varieties include:
All of these fish work well with the same recipes you would use for monkfish. You can grill them the same way and get practically the same exact flavor. But when you can have monkfish, it is the perfect choice for your fish soup or grilled fish dish!