Thelonius Monkfish

This came together nicely, and fairly quickly, and the result was as good to eat as it was healthy. Not the worst combination in the world.

Eating monkfish is a little bit contentious; different groups rate it differently in terms of its sustainability but most agree that it should not be eaten. In general, I don’t buy it, but my wife did—I didn’t hear my phone when she called from the market, which is how we usually do it—and I was not about to do anything other than cook it as well as I know how. The rest of the meal took shape around it.

Anybody interested in the complex state of seafood today might find this article useful. It can seem overwhelming, but remember that farmed shellfish from near where you live are always a good choice.

First, I peeled and cut some yellow beets and put them in a pot with water and a thumb of ginger to boil and soften. I salted the fish, and blanched some collard leaves after shaving the thick stalk flat for easy rolling. Rolled up in leaves, the fish went into the bamboo steamer for about 20 minutes. I quick-pickled some celery, making a mostarda sort of thing, by cooking thin slices in vinegar and water with a small pour each of maple syrup and mustard oil plus a bit of salt and then cooking them until the liquid was all but evaporated. The slices were soft, but still had a nice crunch to them, and a bright, fragrant sharpness that I thought would cut through the creamy beet sauce.

Speaking of which, once the beets were tender I took them off the heat, removed the ginger, and stick-blended them smooth with a knob of butter and a shake of this yellow curry powder that I like. I strained them back into the pot and kept it warm until the fish was cooked through. And that was it, except for a dusting of sumac/pimentón, and salt that I mixed up in a little bowl and sprinkled on the finished plates.

This bowl was a study in consonant dissonance, to pleasurable effect. The earthy beets and collards played nicely off the oceany fish, and the celery provided a distinctive counterpoint that sharpened the focus of the other flavors. Even the red dust added sumac’s tangy funk and a little bit of smoke from the paprika. It made an appealing and interesting dinner, and gave me a couple of other ideas to pursue in the near future.

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