From Mark Bittman, author of The Minimalist Cooks at Home and the New York Times weekly column, "The Minimalist."
Note: The fish in this recipe may be unsustainable. Check Seafood Watch for information and alternatives.
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Back in the old days, when I was a cooking fanatic, I made a wonderful recipe of roasted monkfish with meat sauce. It was an understated dish, simple in appearance but absurdly tiresome in preparation, because although the monkfish was roasted plainly, the sauce was a reduction that began with meat bones, continued with roasted vegetables, and required four or five steps over a two-day period. The result was delicious, but so ordinary-looking that only the best-trained palates ever picked up on how ridiculously complex it was.
When my kids were born this kind of dish fell out of my repertoire as quickly as sleeping through the night. But the concept is a solid one, for a number of reasons. The first lies in the nature of monkfish, a meaty fish that is sometimes called "poor man's lobster" but whose texture is better described by the nickname given to it by one of my first fish gurus, who called it "veal of the sea" and cut it into medallions, the better to treat it exactly like veal cutlets.
This same meaty texture and mild flavor makes monkfish the perfect foil for a deep, rich sauce - and that was the original idea behind my old dish. How, though, to update it and make it possible to prepare in forty minutes rather than forty hours?
The obvious place to start was with canned stock. But when I reduced canned beef stock to a glossy sauce, the results were overly salty and one-dimensional; although I could taste beef (given my expectations, this was a mild but pleasant surprise) the flavor lacked depth. I thought back to the original process and remembered that the complexity of roasted meat stocks, or of any stock for that matter, comes not only from the long, slow cooking of meat and bones, but from the vegetables that were added to them.
So I started with pan-roasted vegetables, a simple combination of onion, carrot, and celery, darkly browned in a little bit of butter, a process that took less than ten minutes. To that I added a spoonful of tomato paste, for smoothness, body, and color - an ingredient I later decided was unnecessary, although you might not - and finally a can of beef stock.
Twenty minutes later I had my glaze, and although it didn't have the richness of my original work of art, no one I served both two could tell the difference with any certainty. Although water would not work in place of beef broth - you need the gelatin that only meat can give - chicken broth would. In fact, when I made this with homemade chicken broth the results were paler in color but better in flavor.
The monkfish itself is roasted with salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of olive oil, and its juices are added to the simmering sauce about five minutes before serving. Note that it's best to remove the thin membrane clinging to the monkfish before cooking. Just pull and tug on it while cutting through it with a paring knife and it will come off; you don't have to be too compulsive about this task, but try to get most of it off.
Large pieces of monkfish - those weighing more than a pound - should be split down the middle lengthwise to make two fillets before cooking. Finally, unlike most white-fleshed fish, monkfish is not better when slightly undercooked - it requires thorough cooking, to the point where it is opaque and tender throughout. You'll know it's done when a thin-bladed knife inserted into the thickest part meets little resistance.
1. Preheat the oven to its maximum, at least 450 degrees. Put a cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet or roasting pan in the oven while it is heating. Put half the butter in a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the carrot and celery and stir; a minute later, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables brown -- be careful not to let them burn -- less than 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste if you're using it, then the broth or stock. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture simmers for about 10 minutes.
2. Strain the broth, pressing on the vegetables to extract their liquid. Return to medium-high heat and bring to a boil; let boil until reduced by about 3/4, or until less than half a cup of thick liquid remains. (At this point, if your timing is right, you'll be ready to add the liquid in Step 3.) Season the fish with salt and pepper.
3. After straining the broth and returning it to the heat, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and add the olive oil to it; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the fish and roast five minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully pour the liquid that has accumulated around the fish into the simmering sauce; once again, bring it to a boil and reduce until thick, syrupy, and about 1/2 cup. Turn the fish and roast it another 5 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife inserted into its thickest part meets little resistance.
4. Stir the remaining butter into the sauce, then serve the fish with the sauce spooned over it.
Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appetit magazine and the website www.bonappetit.com, knows his way around a grill. He has edited an entire book on the subject: The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit.