What Is Monkfish?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Storing Monkfish

Monkfish filets

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Monkfish have small eyes, rows of fang-like teeth, and large heads and mouths. The tail is the only edible part of this fish. When filleted, the flesh is bright white and the texture and mouthfeel are often compared to that of a cooked lobster. 

What is Monkfish? 

Monkfish are deep water bottom-dwellers, mostly harvested in the North Atlantic from coastal Norway to the Mediterranean. Rather than swimming, they use their fins to "walk" along the ocean floor and search for prey. They are voracious feeders and will eat nearly anything that swims nearby.

Each fish contains two thick fillets, generally weighing between one and four pounds, on either side of the spine. The tail is prized for its tenderness and mild flavor, and is the part of the fish most commonly sold. There is flavorful meat located in the cheeks, as well, but this cut is not commonly harvested in America. The meat is firm, lean, and white, light gray, or light pink in color, firm.

How to Cook Monkfish

Monkfish is typically available in stores as deboned and deveined fillets or tails and is rarely sold whole. Often, the tails still contain one central bone which does not need to be removed before cooking and can easily be avoided when eating. Be sure to remove any pink or grey-colored membranes and rinse in cold water before cooking. Because the fish is so lean, it will lose moisture and shrink upon cooking. To mitigate this, salt or brine the fillet one hour before cooking.

Monkfish is an incredibly versatile seafood to cook. You can bake, broil, fry, grill, poach, or sauté this firm protein, and the fillets take on the flavor of marinades and sauces very well. The sturdy texture makes it good for grilling, since it won't fall apart like more delicate fish. It can be served in soup, as well, but overcooks easily due to its lean flesh. Monkfish fish pairs well with butter, much like cooked lobster.

Monkfish tails
lsantilli / Getty Images
Removing the monkfish membrane
Ian O'Leary / Getty Images
Cooked monkfish
Philippe Desnerck / Getty Images
Monkfish stew
Momphoto / Getty Images

What Does Monkfish Taste Like?

Monkfish are known to have a similar texture, look, and flavor to lobster. The fish has a meaty texture, a mild, sweet flavor, and is often used in fine dining and French cooking. Fresh monkfish generally lacks the “fishy” taste many associate with eating ocean fish. It is also perfect for taking on sharp, acidic, or bold flavors such as capers, lemon, or garlic. The liver is considered a delicacy in Japan and can be found in temaki (hand rolls) or nigiri sushi.

Monkfish Recipes

Monkfish can be prepared in a number of ways and can be swapped for other firm fish in recipes. Try baking it with lemon and butter, grilled like a steak, or pan-fried with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce. Note that you may need to adjust the cook times when substituting monkfish.

Where to Buy Monkfish

Monkfish are not often readily available at grocery stores. Some well-stocked refrigerated meat sections, especially those in coastal cities, may carry deboned and deveined fillets or tails. The fish may be labeled as American angler, the most commonly found monkfish in the U.S. Ask a local fishmonger if you can't find monkfish at your local supermarket. You can also purchase frozen monkfish online from high-quality seafood markets.

When purchasing at the market, look for American wild-caught sustainable monkfish whenever possible. Keep in mind that the fillets will shrink upon cooking when determining portion sizes. Bright red blood on the fish is a sign of a recently caught fish. Dried or brown blood indicates a fish that has already begun to age and may be nearing the end of the safety zone for purchasing and cooking. Look for fish that looks moist and colorful, and beware of an overly fishy odor.

Storing Monkfish

Monkfish should be stored in the refrigerator and cooked and consumed within two days of purchasing. To extend the life of your monkfish or save it for cooking another day, store it in the freezer. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then pack in a freezer bag and squeeze out the air. Stored this way, your monkfish will last up to six months. If you bought your monkfish frozen and it has not defrosted, it can be put directly into the freezer for up to six months.

Store cooked monkfish in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. For best results, eat monkfish the day it's cooked.