Black butter spiced monkfish

I’m gearing  up to hit you with a deluge of side dishes. So here’s a centrepiece that’s both strong and easy. Perhaps deceptively so, given how off-putting a monkfish tail is.

This beast is, in fact, remarkably easy to cook. No fiddly bones, sturdy, and a grand carrier of flavour.

Because the flesh is fairly forgiving and can take being cooked for a longer time then most fish, monkfish tail is often found in curries or wrapped in Parma ham and roasted (yawn). But I personally think there’s a tendency to overcook it, and prefer to pan fry for only a short time, constantly basting the fillet with browning, foaming butter until just cooked through.

The method for this black butter spiced monkfish tail goes through that cooking process in a little more detail. And the resulting tail meat is juicy, giving and much, much better to eat than it was to look at.

As it happens the sides are pretty good too — spiced butternut squash purée and a macerated onion and coriander salad. But, like I say, you’re going to be sick of me and sides soon, so I’ll leave you to get on with it.

This recipe was originally published in Borough Market’s ‘Market Life’ magazine. Grab a hold of a copy next time you’re in SE1.

Black spiced monkfish landscape

Black butter spiced monkfish (and other bits)

For the squash puree:

  • 30g butter
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • 500g butternut squash flesh, cubed (peeled weight)
  • ¼ lime

For the macerated onion:

  • 1 red onion, very finely sliced
  • Heavy pinch sea salt
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Bunch of picked coriander leaves

For the monkfish tail:

  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 tbsp cumin seed
  • 500-600g monkfish tail, filleted
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 40g butter
  • ¼ lime

Melt 15g butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion and a pinch of salt and soften for 4-5 mins. Add the ground ginger and garlic and cook for 1 min, then add the squash. Barely cover with water, bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 mins until soft.

Drain, reserving the cooking liquor, and decant the squash, onion and garlic into a blender or food processor. Add 80ml cooking liquor and 15g butter, then blend for 3-4 mins until you’ve a velvety smooth puree. Season generously with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime. You can do this well in advance of eating—just reheat gently in a pan and add the citrus only at the last minute.

15 mins before you plan to eat, combine the red onion, sea salt and lime juice. Leave to macerate so they soften and turn a little pink. Add the coriander leaves and gently mix together.

Grind the coriander and cumin seeds and another heavy pinch of salt to a powder using a pestle and mortar, then tip onto a plate. Cut each monkfish fillet into two pieces at the point the flesh begins to narrow. The thinner bits go in the pan later. Use 1 tbsp sunflower oil to lightly coat the monkfish pieces, then roll them in the spices.

Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a high heat. Add 2 tbsp sunflower oil and allow to warm for 30 secs before placing the two larger pieces of monkfish in the pan. Cook for 45 secs on one side. Turn and cook for another 45 secs before adding the two thinner pieces.

Cook for another 45 secs on a new side before adding the butter, which will immediately bubble and foam. A further 2-3 mins of frying, spooning the browning butter over the top of the fish as you go, will be enough.

Let the fish rest for 2 mins before cutting each piece in half, and dividing equally, along with a couple of spoons of puree and a handful of coriander and onion.