Monkfish: Not Just a Pretty Face
What do you say about an ugly fish like monkfish to encourage consumers to try it? If we eat with our eyes first, it's a wonder that anyone ever decided to fillet a monkfish and throw it on a firepit. But we are thankful to whoever ate the first monkfish and hope that others might soon be inspired to give this sustainably-harvested fish a shot.
How is monkfish doing?
Great! The population of this fish is above target levels and current fishing activity ensures that the population will continue to be above target. The monkfish fishery is managed by NOAA Fisheries and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, and management initiatives include things like annual catch limits, limited access permits, size limits, landing limits, and measures to reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat. Monkfish is available year-round in Maine, with peak season in the fall.
This fish also does a pretty good job defending itself when it's hanging out at the bottom of the ocean. The monkfish is almost all mouth with a meaty tail. Its teeth lean inward so that when the monkfish is swallowing its prey (whole) it can't back out and escape. (Like a spike strip that prevents cars from going in a certain direction.) It's also able to manipulate the color of its body to match its surroundings and has "fringe appendages" that look like seaweed and help camouflage the fish. And if that is not enough fun facts for you, monkfish are able to use their fins like feet and "walk" across the bottom of the ocean.
Monkfish has been described as the poor man's lobster but we think that's unfair to both lobster and monkfish because they are actually quite different both in taste and texture. There are two parts of the monkfish that are edible: the tail and the liver also known as ankimo. While ankimo is considered the foie gras of the ocean in some parts of the world, it's not very popular in the United States.
The tail on the other hand can be more easily found in fish markets in the U.S. (Try Gulf of Maine Sashimi if you're in Maine!) The tail is pretty meaty and thick and can withstand being marinated better than other, lighter fish. It can also withstand preparations that more delicate fillets can't, like kebabs. But other than being a bit thicker and meatier, cooking monkfish is just as simple as cooking any other kind of white fish. Monkfish tastes like other types of groundfish like cod or pollock but it is a bit heartier in flavor and firmer in texture so you can even try substituting monkfish for chicken in some recipes!
Monkfish contains magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, Vitamin A, and niacin. Selenium is found in a lot of seafood and it may help boost your immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease.
How do I cook it?
Here's what I recently tried: Marinate the monkfish in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper for about half an hour. Pan-fry the monkfish in a cast iron pan, about 5 minutes on both sides, and then place it in an oven that has been preheated to about 400. The recipe I used from Master Class only cooks the fish for about 10 minutes in the oven, but I found that the fillets needed a bit more time, probably closer to 20. (Maine Monkfish fillets are pretty thick and hearty!)
How do we know all this?
For one thing, we talk to fishermen a lot! And the fishermen who are catching monkfish tell us it's good and that people should be eating it. They also tell us that when people buy monkfish, it supports their entire fishing business and it even supports other fishermen. This is because it's better for fishermen (and the environment) when not all fishermen are fishing for the same thing at the same time in the same area. Variety, like with many things in life, is key to health and longevity.
I also spend a lot of time cooking and eating seafood. I'm a fishing family and we like to cook and eat healthy foods, especially healthy and delicious seafood from Maine.
What's the catch?
In 2019, MCFA hosted a series of events with Luke's Lobster in Portland called What's the Catch. Each event highlighted a different species from the Gulf of Maine. Fishermen joined attendees to share stories about fishing and everyone enjoyed a variety of preparations from the chef. One such event featured the magnificent monkfish.
We are already looking forward to when we will be able to host events like this again, and hope that when the time comes that you'll join us in celebrating Maine's amazing seafood and hardworking fishermen.
Until then here are a few things that you can do to support Maine fishing communities and MCFA:
Try Monkfish! (And any other Gulf of Maine species that may not be as familiar to you.)
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on information pertaining to the fishing industry, coastal communities, seafood, and future events like What's the Catch.
Donate to MCFA and help support our programs to restore the fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine's fishing communities for future generations.
Together, we persevere.
Other questions about monkfish or seafood? Let us know!