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.
© 1990 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.