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Monkfish with Saffron-Lemon-Garlic Sauce

I combined bits from several different recipes to come up with the final version you see here. The steaming method came from Cooks Illustrated (no surprise there) and it worked really well. You line a steamer basket with fresh herbs (fresh basil came from the pot in my window), lemon slices and the shallots left over after using what is needed for the sauce. The fish goes into a pot with about an inch of water and steams for 12 minutes. Tom Colicchio, on an episode of Top Chef last season, went on at some length about letting monkfish rest before serving, so that is also part of the plan.

Start the sauce right before steaming the fish. You begin by sautéing the shallots in butter, then adding the garlic (tip: add a bit of water to the crushed garlic and it won't burn nearly as fast). Then add flour to make a roux, letting it cook for a minute on medium low heat, not letting it brown. Into that goes 1/4 cup of Fino Sherry, and a 1/4 cup of milk. At this point, you have to whisk briskly so the milk is properly incorporated; at first, it looks sort of broken into fine grains. Once it smooths out, add a pinch (about 10 threads) of saffron. Then simmer on low heat, whisking often but not constantly, while the fish steams.

After taking the steamed fish out of the pot, leave it on the steamer basket to rest. Then added 1/4 cup of the steaming liquid (now flavored by the basil, lemon, shallot and fish) to the sauce. Reduce it over medium low heat until there is about  1/4 cup of thickened liquid in the pan. Turn the heat as low as it will go, and add 1/2 a stick of cold butter, one teaspoon at a time. Whisk it constantly at this point until the butter is completely incorporated. Add the juice of half a lemon (still whisking) and about 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper, and voilį.

It would be best served with a nice Chablis, but the Quincy (100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) we served with it was excellent as well.

  • 2 Pounds Monkfish Fillets, trimmed of all dark membrane, cut into 3 inch thick pieces
  • 5 Tablespoons Butter, 4 Tablespoons of which are frozen
  • 2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Shallots
  • 1 Tablespoon Crushed or Very Finely Chopped Garlic
  • ½ Teaspoon Flour
  • ¼ Cup Fino Sherry
  • ¼ Cup Whole Milk
  • Pinch Saffron (about 10 threads)
  • 2 Lemons, 1 Thinly Sliced
  • ¼ Teaspoon White Pepper
  • Fresh Herbs (Optional)
  • Additional Shallots, Thinly Sliced (Optional)

  1. Heat 1 inch of generously salted water in pot large enough to hold a steamer basket. Heat on high until boiling, then lower heat to avoid evaporating all the water.
  2. Lay slices of lemon over the bottom of the steamer basket.
  3. Top the lemon slices with fresh herbs and sliced shallots.
  4. Place monkfish fillets on top of the lemons, herbs and shallots in the steamer basket, in one layer. Set aside temporarily.
  5. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.
  6. When butter stops foaming, lower heat to medium-low and add chopped shallots.
  7. Sauté shallots until soft, two or three minutes.
  8. Add garlic to sauce pan. Sauté for an additional minute.
  9. Add flour to sauce pan. Cook for about one minute.
  10. Add Sherry to sauce pan.
  11. Lower heat to low. Add Milk. Whisk briskly to incorporate milk.
  12. Add saffron, slightly crumbling the threads. Continue to whisk briskly until the mixture become smooth.
  13. Once smooth, simmer for 12 minutes, whisking mixture often, but not constantly.
  14. Place steamer basket in pot of  boiling water. Cover and raise heat to high. Cook for 12 minutes.
  15. After 12 minutes, remove steamer basket from the pot and place on a large plate to catch any water that runs out. Set aside to rest and finish cooking (from retained heat.)
  16. Add ¼ Cup of the steaming liquid to the sauce. Whisk briskly to incorporate.
  17. Reduce over medium-low heat until there is ¼ cup remaining.
  18. Turn heat down as low as it will go. Add frozen butter, 1 teaspoon at a time, whisking briskly, until all the butter is incorporated.
  19. Serve by plating the fish and spooning the sauce over the top.
I served the fish with slices of fresh, heirloom tomatoes. Enjoy!

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