Baked Monkfish with Lemon, Rosemary, and Mustard

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Last week, we tried monkfish for the first time. I picked up two 6-ounce fillets from the store and headed home, wondering what to do with them. The last time we bought fish we’d never tried before, we ended up really liking fresh sardines.

Now we’ve had monkfish for dinner three nights in one week.

Monkfish is often referred to as the poor man’s lobster for its texture and meatiness, though most recently lobster was on sale for cheaper than the monkfish. Hm! Anyway, I bet you can picture what lobster, salmon, and even trout look like. But have you seen a monkfish? This fish is laughably ugly with a mouth about as wide as its body. Please see pictures here and look at the face of the guy holding a monkfish in photo number two. Clearly he wants to toss the monkfish back in the water and be done with this whole thing.

Don’t let its looks deter you. Monkfish is delicious! So you know, we only eat the tail of the monkfish. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything clued me in on how to clean and prepare the fish. The monkfish tail is covered in a thin, grey membrane and you’ll want to cut off as much as possible with a sharp knife. This is a little tricky but not impossible. Then I found it easiest to cut the fish into 2-inch pieces or slice it into rounds. Cooking it this way was easier than using a whole fillet and led to a more tender fish in less time.

After that, this is a simple dinner. Dress up the fish with mustard and citrus zest. I use lemon, but orange or lime would be good, too. Maybe sub in cilantro or parsley for the rosemary? Pop the baking dish into the oven and that’s it. But since you have the oven on, I highly recommend halving some cherry tomatoes and placing them in the oven, too. Get some couscous going on the stovetop and dinner will be on the table before you know it.

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baked monkfish with lemon, rosemary, and mustard

Monkfish, sometimes referred to as the poor man’s lobster, is a white-fleshed fish that’s meaty and versatile. This baking method makes it easy. To prepare the fish, know that the tail of the monkfish, which is all we really eat, is covered in a thin grey membrane. Tug at it and while pulling away, cut off the membrane with a sharp knife. Remove as much of it as possible but don’t worry about it too much. Thanks for the tip, Mark Bittman! And while the oven is on, you might as well halve some sweet cherry tomatoes and toss them onto a baking sheet for dinner, too. 
1 lemon
3/4 teaspoon mustard, preferably coarse or whole grain
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 pounds monkfish, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces

Heat oven to 400ºF.

Remove the zest from a lemon in thick strips using a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Slice the zest into small, long strips (or use a zester that looks like this to do it in one step). Combine the zest in a small bowl with mustard, rosemary, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and salt.

In a baking dish, toss the fish with the mustard mixture. Drizzle with another 1 teaspoon olive oil or so. Toss again, making sure the fish is evenly coated. Cover top of the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in the center of the oven until the fish is opaque and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 3 to 4. Adapted from La Cucina Italiana.

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