The Stockton Indoor Farmer’s Market started up only three weeks ago — right across the street from my apartment! — but thanks to Dawn McBeth, the local baker who runs the market (which also sells baked good from her bakery, Ambrosia), filling it with one amazing vendor after the next, it’s already become my favorite in the county. Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard is there every Sunday; Purely Pastured Farm, with their lamb, beef, and chickens, recently joined up; Highland Market is there with their astonishing beef; and the Red Rooster Spice Company sets up shop every weekend. Throw in Milk House Farm’s sourced vegetables, eggs, and freshly ground grains — and Metropolitan Seafood’s selections — and I haven’t had to leave my tiny town to go grocery shopping in weeks.
The only tricky thing is, you can’t always follow recipes when you are at the mercy of the market’s offerings. Now I know I was touting the importance of recipe-following lately, and declaring that it’s taken precedence in my cooking, so I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that this recipe is my own creation, but it’s not my fault! I had thought I was shopping for a recipe of cod in a parmesan-sage broth; then I came upon the most gorgeous, day-boat monkfish I’d ever seen. Things needed to be rethought on the spot.
Monkfish screams rustic, earthy, substantial. I love to use it in place of meaty proteins – beef, pork – because it stands up so well to strong flavors and textures. Even before I’d finished the buying the fish, I was thinking mushrooms, potatoes…red wine. We got some shitake mushrooms from Highland Gourmet (at a price so ridiculously low I won’t even mention it because I don’t want you to feel bad), then found some turnips, before going home to some green beans and purple potatoes (from Nonesuch Farm).
Wanting something rustic, but not willing to totally abandon my plan for a fancy-pants dinner (this was not a one-pot of night), I came up with something rustic but refined: the purple potatoes were cut into medallions the width and height of the monkfish; the shitakes were sauteed and browned alongside the green beans and turnips; and the red wine butter sauce really satisfied my fancy urges, half of its butter being truffle-butter (which did wonderfully woodsy, earthy things to the whole affair).
A few things should be mentioned before you cook this: first, when you saute mushrooms, you should put them in a hot-hot-hot pan with some butter — not overcrowding — then turn down the heat a little and DO NOT TOUCH THEM FOR THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF COOKING. Otherwise, they won’t brown properly, and if there’s anything I don’t like, it’s a mushroom that isn’t browned properly. (Which, in hindsight, makes me sound pretty weird.) After you let them go untouched for the first five minutes or so, and they are golden and browning on the first side, you can stir them as much as you want and also add other ingredients to the pan (but, again, not before those crucial five minutes are up!). The turnips should go in next, and you should be careful to make sure they brown as well, not messing with them too much either or they’ll go starchy and mush up. Then you add the green beans and cook, covering for a few minutes, until they’re tender and beginning to brown as well. More butter gets added along the way to help even more with the browning.
One last note: trying to keep this recipe as simple as possible, we did a little test of cooking the first piece of monkfish in a pan with butter and nothing else, and cooking the second piece with rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves. Unfortunately for simplicity, the second was the clear winner, so I included that version in the recipe. The first piece was nothing to sneer at, though, so don’t worry if you’re pressed for time or out of rosemary and garlic. Otherwise, I’d follow all the steps, because they led to something great. Rustic, but refined enough for a dinner party; fancy-pants comfort food: a delicious little collaboration between my home-cook style and the things I’ve picked up from all that recipe-following lately.
Monkfish with Purple Potatoes and Truffled Red Wine Sauce
serves 2 (or maybe 3 light eaters)
For the Truffled Red Wine Sauce
1 slice smoked bacon, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dry red wine
4 tablespoons white truffle butter
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the Mushrooms
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon or more white truffle butter
1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
a few handfuls of good-looking green beans, slim as you can find them, cut into 1 inch pieces
1-2 turnips, peeled and cut into a small dice
For the Potatoes
2-3 oblong purple potatoes, about 1 pound total
a few sprigs of thyme
For the Monkfish
¾ to 1 pound monkfish fillet, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic
a sprig of thyme
In a medium saucepan, add bacon over medium high heat and render for 5 minutes. Add shallot, celery, and carrot and cook until softened but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add chicken stock and wine and reduce by a little more than half, about 30 minutes or so.
Meanwhile make the mushrooms: add canola oil and truffle butter to a pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add mushrooms and leave untouched in the pan for at least 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have begun to properly brown. Turn mushrooms and add green beans and turnips and cook until turnips are browned on all sides, adding more butter or oil if the pan gets too dry.
Slice potatoes into thick medallions (you want them to be similar to the size of the monkfish medallions you’ll slice later) and put them into another pan over medium-high heat, so that they are all touching the bottom of the pan in one layer. Add chicken stock or water, enough to come halfway up the sides of the potatoes, and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, then remove the cover and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes are browned, turning potatoes half-way through. Turn off heat and set aside.
To finish the sauce: whisk butter into the reduced wine, a little at a time, until it is a bit thicker and tastes good—not too tart, but not too oily—then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To cook monkfish: Add canola oil to a pan over medium-high heat. Just before the oil starts to smoke, place the monkfish in the pan, rounded (presentation) side down. Cook for five minutes, until the fish is golden-brown, adding a tablespoon of butter about halfway through and basting the fish once the butter browns. (The butter should seem burnt, but the whole pan should not be smoking.) Flip the fish, add another tablespoon of butter, and cook for another six minutes, basting the entire time (and adding the garlic and thyme about halfway through, so that it flavors the butter and oil without burning). Remove the fish from pan and set on a cutting board to rest.
To finish: Cut monkfish into medallions. Spoon mushroom and turnip mixture onto a platter and place a medallion of monkfish, then a slice of potato, over the mushrooms, and repeat until you use up all the monkfish. Any leftover mushrooms or potatoes can be placed around the edge of the platter. Spoon some sauce over everything (you’ll have sauce leftover — bring it to the table to pass around) and serve.