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Product Spotlight - Monkfish

With traditional whitefish in short supply, monk found favor with seafood chefs

It's easy to see why monkfish also goes by the name
    poor man's lobster.
By Linda Skinner
October 01, 2006

There's a good reason whole monkfish don't appear in the seafood display case. Lophius americanus is a repugnant animal with a huge head, tiny eyes and an enormous mouth full of needle-like teeth. A spiky protrusion twitches atop the fish's head to lure prey into its grotesque mouth.

Also, monkfish seldom make it ashore whole, since the tail and liver are the most marketable parts. The 1- to 4-pound tails are usually sold as skinned fillets. Livers are exported to Asia or Europe.

Primary U.S. harvesting areas 
for monkfish, also called goosefish, extend from the Maine-New Brunswick border to North Carolina. The fish was traditionally a bycatch with little commercial value, and U.S. landings were below 1 million pounds into the 1970s. That all changed the next decade, when monkfish became popular among U.S. chefs seeking alternatives to dwindling supplies of traditional whitefish. As domestic demand for the tails grew, an overseas market for livers and whole fish further intensified fishing effort; about a third of the U.S. harvest is exported.

In 1980, landings were at 3,192 metric tons; they more than doubled, to nearly 7,000 metric tons, by 1987 and peaked 10 years later at 27,812. Under a management plan to prevent overfishing for monkfish, the quota for the 2006 season, which started May 1, is 11,404 metric tons, a sharp drop from 2004's harvest of 21,178 metric tons.

In mid-September, at the Gloucester, Mass., fish auction, large tails sold for $3.28 a pound and small tails at $2.59. At the Portland, Maine, fish exchange, large and small tails were priced at $3.82 and $2.90, respectively.

So far, demand hasn't outstripped the reduced supply, reports Ted Testaverde, VP of operations and sales for the Fresh Lobster Co. in Gloucester, Mass., which wholesales fresh fish and live shellfish. The company also offers gourmet gift baskets on its Web site, where a pound of fresh monk goes for $15.25 a pound.

Fresh Lobster sells 500 to 750 pounds of fresh monkfish fillets a week, supplied by the Gloucester auction. Testaverde's monkfish customers are mainly upscale restaurants and catering businesses. He notes that while monkfish has become more popular in recent years, it's still a niche market and more likely to appear as a fresh-fish special than as a standing menu item.

A sample menu for McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant includes Cape May, N.J., monkfish on its Fresh List. Beyond India, a Eurasian bistro in Providence, R.I., menus Sicilian monkfish "osso buco," plank-roasted, served over a seasoned, grilled polenta cake and dressed with marinated olives, fresh herbs and an asparagus salad toss for $15.50.

The SDLq Lightly Cooked" section of the dinner menu at Le Bernardin in New York features Pan Roasted Monkfish with Confit Peppers, Fiery "Patatas Bravas" and Chorizo-Albariño Emulsion.


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