Monkfish is classed as a benthic fish because it lives on the sea bed. It is a poor swimmer and often buries itself in the sand, exposing only its mouth and its filament. This is a type of fin that serves to lure its prey, mainly young fish, as it is carnivorous.
Owing to its ugly head, the monkfish has been given names such as the “sea devil” and “frog fish”. In 19th century France it was often known as the souris de mer (sea mouse).
Not much is known about the origin of one of its French names, baudroie. Etymologists believe it probably comes from the Provençal baudroi or baudron, owing to the resemblance of its large mouth to a baldric.
As for the transformation from baudroie to lotte, this is still a mystery. It is likely, however, that it comes from the fact that the flesh of the monkfish resembles that of the burbot (lote de rivière). That fish, now rather overlooked, was very popular in ancient times and was even farmed in Roman times. Its liver (foie de lote) was used by Carême as a filling for vol-au-vents and timbales, which may have caused them to be mistaken for monkfish liver (foie de lotte)!
Small whole monkfish are available to buy, but they are uncommon. They are mainly found in coastal markets.
Monkfish tail is sold in one piece with the skin. It is also found skinned and frozen.
Monkfish cheeks (removed from the heads) are sold by weight or by piece. They can also be found frozen.
Monkfish liver is sold fresh or frozen.
A monkfish tail should not be skinned: its skin protects it from ice burn.
It should look moist, and its slightly pinkish flesh firm and elastic. Any sign of yellowing means that it is not fresh.
The monkfish tail must be skinned before use. The membrane found under the skin, which shrinks when cooked, must also be removed. The same applies to the membrane covering the cheeks.
The tail is cooked whole, cut into chunks, or as fillets taken from each side of its backbone.
Monkfish can be prepared in a number of ways: poached, cooked in court-bouillon, grilled, en papillote, and it goes well with vegetables.
This versatility has given rise to classic dishes such as lotte à l'américaine and curried monkfish.
Bourride sétoise, a dish made by fishermen and the poor, was originally prepared with a small whole monkfish, with the head providing its unique flavor and the liver used to thicken the sauce.
Monkfish cheeks can be prepared the same way as the tail, but with shorter cooking times.
Monkfish tails can be kept for 24–48 hours in the refrigerator or in a cool room at 4ºC, without skinning, to prevent them from drying out.
Monkfish is a white fish. Like all fish, it is high in proteins, B group vitamins, and minerals.
There are two main species of monkfish, which are mainly distinguished by their tail. They live on soft sea beds 20–1000 m deep, into which they burrow.
- Anglerfish or white anglerfish or frog-fish or sea devil
The largest variety, this fish can grow to 2 m in length and 50 kg in weight. Its skin is a light brown color marbled with darker areas, and its flesh is white. It lives in the North Atlantic from Norway to Mauretania, and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
- Black anglerfish or black-bellied anglerfish
This species is smaller, with an average length ranging between 30–40 cm. Its sides are very dark and its flesh is a pale ivory. It lives in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Monkfish are caught all year round, but the best season is between March and May.
The French spelling of this fish (lote) is variable, sometimes being seen with a two t's, which leads it to be mistaken for monkfish (lotte), to which it is no relation. It is found in the lakes of the Savoie region (Bourget, Annecy, Saint-Jean, Léman). It has a long body with brown skin and a yellowish-white belly. It grows to an average length of 25–35 cm and weighs 200–400 g.