Monkfish with Mustard and Cucumber Sauce

Were there monkfish before 1975? We all know the horse took several million years to evolve, but under the influence of Messrs Troisgros, Chapel and Blanc, the lotte became established in our gastronomic consciousness in no time at all.

Before that its real claim to fame was as the Tom Keating of the piscine world, a supposed underhand catering substitute for scampi because of its knotty, dense texture. An erstwhile neighbour assured me that lobster in fancy restaurants is always ‘that angler fish’. (In that distant age many otherwise sensible people were suspicious of restaurants: they thought that Chinese restaurants always served rabbit as chicken, and that sauces were a guise to mask inferior meat. This from the same people that cheerfully put green colouring, mint and vinegar on good lamb, and who wouldn’t try food that had been ‘mucked about’.)

Discovery, or at least respectability, came with the arrival of La Nouvelle Cuisine. Not only was the fish fashionable; it was cheaper than sole or sea bass. Restaurateurs couldn’t ask for anything more, and it appeared on every menu. I don’t think it can taste any different now than then, and I’m amazed that anyone could confuse it with scampi – it’s much better.

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) monkfish flesh taken from the bone (see step 1)
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fish Stock

  • fish bone and trimmings
  • 1 medium leek
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1 small bunch parsley

Sauce

  • 1 cucumber, peeled (see step 5)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 fl oz (25 ml) dry sherry
  • 2 fl oz (50 ml) double cream
  • 1 oz (25 g) unsalted butter

To Complete

  • ½ lemon

Method

The fish

  1. With a small sharp knife cut away the two fillets from the one central bone. Try to keep the knife pointed slightly inwards towards the bone so that if your hand slips you are cutting against the bone rather than damaging the fish fillet. Cut away the two ‘cheeks’ which are attached to the fillets, then carefully trim off the membrane and any discoloured patches.

    If you are not going to use the fish immediately, put it in the refrigerator either wrapped in cling film if it is to be used within a few hours, or else lightly brushed with olive oil. Remember not to put the fish next to eggs, milk or anything else likely to taint.

  2. Just before you complete the dish, slice the fish into medallions no more than ¼ in (6 mm) thick.

The fish Stock

  • Cut the bone and all the fish trimmings into roughly 1 in (2.5 cm) pieces. Clean and cut the leek, shallot and parsley similarly. Grind a little black pepper over the pieces.
  • Warm a teaspoon of olive oil in a medium (say 2 pint/1.2 litre) saucepan, then sweat the fish bones and trimmings and vegetables until you can smell cooked fish rather than raw.
  • Add all the peelings from the cucumber and 1 pint (600 ml) water. Bring this to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Strain into a smaller saucepan and reduce by simmering until you have 5 fl oz (150 ml) left.

The sauce

  • Cut the cucumber, as you prefer, either into thin slices or thin strips. Lightly salt and pepper them. Keep them to one side in a warm spot in the kitchen.
  • Whisk the mustard and sherry into the fish stock and bring to the boil.
  • Add the cream. Re-boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter, and take the sauce off the heat.

To Complete

  • Heat a dry pan until you sense it is about to start smoking. Place the thin slices of monkfish on to the hot surface of the pan and let them seal on each side. Dust with a fine spray of salt. They will cook in 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Lift the slices of monkfish on to a piece of kitchen paper and squeeze lemon over them.
  • Test the sauce to see whether it may need a little salt. Spoon the sauce on to warm plates.
  • Lift the cucumber, which will have shed some of its juices. Squeeze it lightly and place on the sauce.
  • Lay the monkfish on top, and serve immediately.
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