Monkfish and Clams with a Burned Garlic Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

Here is a great fish dish from the Catalan repertoire in which garlic is slowly simmered in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan until “burned” to a rich brown color. Marvelously succulent, dense, and meaty, monkfish benefits greatly from this garlic-infused sauce bursting with the flavors of toasted almonds, tomatoes, clams, and an exciting floral touch of oloroso sherry

Chef Josep Lladonosa i Giro, one of the great living experts on Catalan cooking, told me that the finished sauce must be dark and creamy and have the texture of a béchamel. To achieve this, the cook needs to use a mortar and pestle or an electric mixer to make the finishing picada.

Steps 1, 2, and 3 can be prepared many hours in advance.


  • pounds monkfish tails
  • Sea salt
  • 12 small hard-shell or manila clams, washed in several changes of water, drained, and kept refrigerated
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 blanched almonds
  • One ¾ - inch - thick slice of crustless stale bread
  • 10 to 12 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons oloroso (medium-dry) sherry
  • 1 tomato, halved, seeded, and rubbed on the coarsest side of a 4- hole grater
  • 2 cups rich fish or shellfish stock, heated to boiling
  • 2 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes, about 1¼ pounds
  • 4 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • freshly ground black pepper


  1. Wash the monkfish, cut off the gray membrane, and cut the fish into 12 even pieces, each about 1 inch thick. Lightly sprinkle each piece of monkfish with coarse salt, cover, and refrigerate.
  2. Rinse the clams in several changes of water, scrubbing the shells, if necessary, to remove any sand. Drain and refrigerate.
  3. Make the picada: Heat the olive oil in a 12 - inch earthenware cazuela or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and fry, stirring often, until golden, about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a mortar or electric blender. Add the bread to the pan and fry until golden; add to the almonds. Add the garlic slices to the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the slices turn chestnut brown, 10 to 15 minutes. (Be very careful, because the cloves can quickly turn from chestnut brown to burned.) Add the browned garlic to the bread and almonds. Add half of the parsley, the cayenne, sherry, and 3 tablespoons water and grind to a smooth puree. Scrape the picada into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the remaining oil in the pan and cook over medium heat until scorched and thickened to 1 tablespoon, about 15 minutes. Add the boiling stock and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. About 20 minutes before serving, reheat the liquid in the cazuela to boiling. Add the potatoes (see Note) and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, until almost tender. Stir the almond picada into the liquid and simmer for a few minutes. Rinse the fish, slip it into the liquid in a single layer, and cook over low heat, partially covered, until the fish is half cooked, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn each piece of fish, add the clams and cherry tomatoes, cover, and continue cooking 8 more minutes, or until the clams open and the fish is fully cooked. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and another pinch of cayenne, if you like. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve hot in soup plates.