Ugly as a Monkfish’s Uncle

If monkfish can teach you one thing, it’s “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” There are hardly any foods in the world that are this ugly:

But monkfish isn’t simply ugly, it’s also hands-down the best fish to use in a stew, assuming you can get over the look long enough to cook it. That was easy for me—I found it’s ugliness rather intriguing, actually, and the monkfish I had this weekend was fresh, clean, and about one day off the boat—caught from local fishermen and bought at the farmer’s market.

As soon as I saw the vendor was selling monkfish, I knew I had to make a fish stew. Snagging some mussels and clams, I moved on to the other stands and bought some of the most delicate, flavorfully-bitter arugula I’ve ever tasted.

I went straight to Anne Willan’s The Country Cooking of France cookbook (my favorite new book) once I got home, knowing it would have some great fish stew recipes. To my delight, one of the recipes is for Cotriade Bretonne, a fish stew with sorrel and leek. It calls for a rich fish (monkfish), a white fish (I had some hake in the fridge), and mussels. I could easily substitute the arugula for sorrel and why not throw some clams in there! A perfect combination.

The resulting soup was perfect in more than just the ease it took me to procure the ingredients—it was flavorful yet balanced, creamy yet light, with a hint of bitterness from the arugula. The mussels and clams were a fun addition for a Saturday night (we spent hours eating and plucking the meat from the shells, which were filled up with all the leeky, arugula goodness) but you could easily omit both bivalves and make this soup in no-time on a weeknight. I’ll certainly be doing so often.

Cotriade Bretonne

Fish Stew with Arugula and Leek

adapted from The Country Cooking of France, by Anne Willan

serves 6

  • 1/2 pound white fish, without skin
  • 1 pound rich fish, without skin
  • 1 1/2 pounds mussels
  • 1-2 dozen clams (optional)
  • 1 pound arugula (or sorrel), stems removed, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 leeks, white and green parts, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 quart fish stock
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 3/4 cup creme fraiche
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Wash and dry the fish, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Clean the mussels and clams and arugula. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the arugula, cover, and cook until the green wilt. Uncover and cook until all liquid had evaporated. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a soup pot. Add onions, leeks, and garlic and cook until they soften, 8-10 minutes. Add the stock, potatoes, bouquet garni, salt and pepper and simmer until the potatoes are partially cooked, about 5 minutes.

Add the rich fish to the cooking liquid, immersing it in the liquid, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the white fish and simmer until all fish are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard bouquet garni. Add the arugula and creme fraiche, mixing gently. Top with mussels and clams (if using) and simmer until they open, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with baguette toasts.