We have an Octogenarian fishmonger, who still likes to help us deliver early morning visits to the market. He started out working with Mac Fisheries – one of the great seafood retailers in its day. He then went onto run his own business, retiring and selling up his business over 20 years ago… This fantastic man – Charlie Caisey – went on to receive an MBE for his services to fishmongering.
He pops down to the market to catch up with his friends: merchants, fish handlers and other fishmongers and to catch up on Billingsgate Gossip. They say that once Billingsgate gets under your skin, you can never really leave.
Charlie has seen many changes to the industry over the years and one of these is the changes in species popularity. At one time he would sell lots of skates and rays, and buy boxes of fish trimmings including cod, belly flaps, coley trimmings and some monkfish would end up in his ‘cat flap’ box, which was available to his customers for their pets. He said that no-one wanted them, although he thought they were great.
Enter Fanny Craddock….legend has it that the first lady of celebrity cooking – announced that monkfish tasted remarkably like Dublin Bay Prawns (langoustine) and made a great alternative… so for a period rumour has it that some tried to pass goujons of monkfish off as scampi.
Monkfish then became popular and inevitably the price rose and monkfish was no longer a ‘cat flap’ favourite, but a trendy fish that ALL celebrity chefs like to work with. It is also known as Angler Fish (Lotte in France). The liver – a sushi delicacy is also known as Ankimo in Japanese cuisine.
It is a versatile product, the texture making it excellent for stir-fries – as it doesn’t break up. It is also filling so you only really need 150g portion per person.
At Billingsgate there are several stocks of this fish: from the UK - some landed in Cornwall and some in Scotland. There are a couple of related species caught – commonly the white bellied species is landed and smaller quantities of the black bellied fish. Monkfish harvested around Iceland has now achieved the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification - so after a few years or worry concerning its sustainability, stock levels show improvement.
It is an unusual looking fish with a big head and wide toothy grin with rows of small sharp spikey teeth. The head is usually removed prior to transportation as it adds additional weight to a box. The cheeks are harvested and sold separately and the liver is reserved for the Japanese market.
What comes to market is the ‘tail’ which shows the whole body (minus head). The skin is glossy and a marbled brown colour on top paling to a white on the belly, it is loose around the body. Once the head has been removed the fish is displayed with dark skin down and cut body obvious. Quality is identified by translucent, white fillets around a long cartilaginous type bone.
The remaining preparation is easy to achieve. It is possible to pull the dark skin away from head to tail. The fish can then be filleted and once the main bone is removed there are no further bones, making this ideal for anyone who is bone phobic.
Not quite ready for cooking – the fish requires further trimming or ‘deep-skinning’ to remove a couple of further layers of membrane. Membrane shrinks around the fish and toughens on cooking – so it must be removed. Further trimming is required to remove a dark muscle close to the flesh. If this is left on it will turn dark grey on cooking – fine in a stew or casserole as it will add flavour, but is unsightly if the fish is to be simply roasted or served with a delicate white sauce.
Great ways to cook? At the Seafood School we include it in stews, soups and some curries, along with stir-fries. A particular favourite is Monkfish and Mango Coconut Curry.