Coda di Rospo al Forno coi Funghi Secchi

Dried Wild Mushrooms with Baked Monkfish or Other Fish Steaks or Lobster

Italian cooks generally prepare fish as simply as possible, grilling, steaming, or frying it, with hardly any other flavor used to assist the fish’s own. To vary the routine, however, they may stew or bake it and introduce other ingredients, perhaps just garlic and parsley, or tomatoes, other vegetables, rosemary, wine. Whatever the combination, one must take care not to camouflage the delicate flesh or dull the freshness of the fish; it must not be a passive participant in any preparation. On the contrary, the stimulus of other flavorings must serve to prime it for an even livelier role.

In this recipe, such a stimulus is supplied by dried wild mushrooms. When reconstituted, they are sautéed in classic Italian fashion with olive oil, garlic, and parsley; then they are used as a marinade for the fish, which subsequently is baked together with the mushrooms.

Choose any fish with compact, somewhat fatty flesh. It ought not to flake easily, which rules out flounder and sole.

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Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 4 cups lukewarm water for 30 minutes
  • 4 pounds monkfish, bone in; or sturgeon steaks, 2 inches thick (or other fish steaks—see introductory note); or 5 to 6 pounds live lobster or 4 pounds frozen lobster tails, thawed
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • tablespoons garlic chopped very fine
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs

Method

  1. If using monkfish: Unsheathe the fish from its skin, pulling it clean away and discarding it. With a sharp filleting knife loosen the fish from its center bone, but do not detach it completely; leave just enough flesh joined to the bone so that it remains in place. If the fish is more than 2 inches thick, make 1-inch-deep diagonal incisions in it, spaced about 2 inches apart. Wash the fish in cold water and pat thoroughly dry with kitchen towels.

    If using sturgeon or other fish steaks: Wash in cold water and pat dry.

    If using live lobster: Detach the tail from the head, or have the fishmonger do it for you. Detach the claws, set them aside, and discard the head, unless you want to cook it that day in a fish soup. Free the tail from its shell, cutting the shell away with poultry shears. Butterfly the tail.

    If using frozen lobster tails: When the tails are thawed, free them from their shells and butterfly them.

  2. When the mushrooms have finished soaking, remove them from the bowl with your hand. Squeeze them gently, letting the water trickle through your fingers back into the bowl. Wash the mushrooms in several changes of cold water, then cut them up into large pieces.
  3. Filter the water in which the mushrooms soaked through a strainer lined with a paper towel. Set aside.
  4. Put 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and all the chopped garlic in a skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. Sauté until the garlic becomes colored a pale gold.
  5. Add the parsley, stir once or twice, add the cut-up mushrooms, stir once or twice again, then add the filtered soaking liquid, salt, and a few grindings of pepper and turn up the heat to high. When all the water has boiled away and the only liquid left in the pan is oil, turn off the heat.
  6. Choose an oven-to-table baking dish that can accommodate all the fish. Smear the bottom lightly with olive oil. Put in the fish or the shelled lobster tail (if using live lobster, include the uncracked claws) and pour over it the entire contents of the skillet. Add some salt and grindings of pepper and the lemon juice. Sprinkle the bread crumbs uniformly on top and over them pour the remaining oil in a thin stream, distributing it evenly.
  7. Place the dish in the refrigerator and let it marinate for a minimum of 1 hour, preferably for 5 to 6 hours.
  8. When ready to cook, turn on the oven to 400°. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Place in the uppermost level of the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes if it is monkfish or fish steaks—depending on its thickness—or 12 to 15 minutes if it is lobster. Allow to settle for 5 to 8 minutes before serving.

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