Monkfish is an ugly, ugly fish, but I have memories of watching Julia years ago, with this massive, ugly fish, holding it up by the tail. When I’ve prepared it, I wasn’t happy with the results…I’ve grilled it, sautéed it, roasted it and while the flavor was nice, the texture was not to my liking. Let’s just say, it was a little too chewy. It always seemed underdone. Then, I tried braising it. Bingo! From now on, this is my go-to way to cook monkfish.When you purchase monkfish, you will have to clean it. There are no bones,
but it’s covered with a slippery membrane, much like silver skin on a tenderloin. It must be removed, as it seizes up and is unpleasantly touch. You can ask your fishmonger to do it, but it isn’t difficult to do yourself.
I like a chunky, rustic version of the sauce, so I only blend about one-third of the sauce. If you prefer a smoother version, throw it into the blender (or use an immersion blender right in the pot) and whirl it up until it’s smooth. I tend to use jarred, roasted red peppers, but truly, homemade will give you the best flavor. I also add a few tablespoons of the pepper brine as part of the liquid, but that’s not necessary. Regular almonds are fine, but they absolutely must be toasted. The marcona almonds are more buttery and thus, their flavor is richer.
This is a relatively quick recipe. It’s delicious and it presents beautifully. It’s a wonderful company dish, too. I prefer to make the sauce part, at least a couple of hours ahead of serving. Then, all you have left to do is to braise the monkfish and serve it. I like this with Green Beans, Spanish-Style and either Stove-Top Roasted Potatoes, or oven roasted potatoes or rice…and a salad, if you wish.
For the sauce, place the saffron threads in the sherry and set aside; you want to do this at least 10 minutes before you’ll be adding the sherry. I use a deep pot with a good lid for this. Sauté the leeks in olive oil for a few minutes. I use some of the more tender, inner green parts of the leeks, too. Why waste them? Add the garlic, roasted peppers and sprinkle with salt. Sauté for 2-3 minutes; add the sherry/saffron mixture, clam juice and water. Give it a good stir and bring to the boil. Immediately lower the heat, just so the sauce simmers. I usually do this with the lid just a bit ajar. Let it simmer for about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the black pepper. At this point, you can remove the pan from the heat and let stand for a couple of hours. I usually season the monkfish with a dusting of the paprika and add the rest of the paprika to the pot.
When you’re ready to finish the dish, return the pot to the simmer. This is where you need to decide “to thicken, or not to thicken…that is the question.” If you want a slightly thickened sauce, use an immersion blender and blend about one-third of the sauce. Or make a cornstarch slurry to thicken it slightly…not you may continue. Add the almonds, olives and capers to the sauce. Give it a good stir. Cut the monkfish into serving-sized pieces; add the seasoned monkfish pieces to the simmering sauce. I gently push them down into the sauce, but the sauce will not cover them completely. Cover and gently braise/poach until the monkfish is tender, about 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. (The fish will release a bit of liquid while it cooks.) Remove the fish to a serving dish. Return the sauce to a simmer and add the butter. Stir until it melts. Slice the pieces of fish on the diagonal; nap with the sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve any additional sauce on the side. I think good bread is a nice touch…you don’t want to waste any of that sauce.
Spanish-Style Braised Monkfish in Roasted Pepper-Saffron Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced leeks (about 2 large leeks or an onion)
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 2 roasted red bell peppers, diced (homemade are best—reserve the liquid)
- Large pinch of saffron threads (optional)
- 1/3 cup dry sherry
- 1 cup fish broth or clam juice
- 1/4 cup toasted marcona almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimentón), divided
- 2 pounds monkfish, membranes removed, cut into 4 pieces
- 1/3 cup sliced black or green olives
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Excellently flavored olive oil
Place the saffron threads, if using, in the dry sherry; set aside for at least 10 minutes. Dust the pieces of fish with part of the paprika; add the remainder of the paprika to the pot along with the garlic, roasted peppers, etc.
In a large deep frying pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, roasted peppers and sherry (with the saffron threads); simmer for 1 minute. Add the fish broth (I use the reserved pepper “juice” as part of the liquid). Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 10-12 minutes. MAKE AHEAD TIP: You may remove the pot from the heat; let stand for 2-3 hours before you finish the dish.
If you intend to thicken the sauce, see the NOTE before continuing. Stir the olives, capers and black pepper into the sauce. Lay the fish in the sauce, gently pushing them down into the sauce. Cover over the pot; simmer, until just done, about 10 minutes. Remove the fish to a serving platter; slice the fish on the diagonal. Spoon the sauce around the fish and serve sprinkled with the parsley. I like this served with roasted potatoes and Green Beans, Spanish-Style.
NOTE: Before you add the olives and capers, you may wish to thicken the sauce, which tends to be a bit on the “watery” side. I use an immersion blender and blend one side, or about one third of the entire amount of sauce. I like to leave the remainder unblended, as I like the chunkiness. You may also thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry. Thicken, then continue with the recipe.
I like to drizzle some really fine olive oil over the fish when I serve it. If you prefer a smooth sauce, you may puree the sauce, before adding the olives and capers. Use caution when puréeing in the blender. To avoid burns, don’t over-fill the blender. If you want a bit of spicy heat, use hot smoked paprika, instead of the sweet.
Other fish work well this way, such as haddock and halibut, but they may not take as long to braise.
Spanish-Style Braised Monkfish in Roasted Pepper Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2020. All rights reserved.