Monkfish are deep water bottom feeders that are usually fished from the North Atlantic - from the coasts of Norway down to the Mediterranean.
They don’t really swim, instead, they use their little fins to “walk” across the bottom of the ocean. Their mouths are quite large and are designed to take in as much food as possible. They’re not too picky either, and will eat almost anything put in front of them.
Where do Monkfish Come From?
Monkfish are mostly harvested from the oceans, and there are no known directed fisheries for this variety of seafood.
They’re found mostly in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean - but can also be found around the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, specifically around North Carolina - and can tolerate quite a wide range of temperatures and ocean depths. A monkfish can easily live from shallow inshore waters up to depths of 3,000 feet - and any depth in between.
Is Monkfish Safe to Eat?
The good news about monkfish is that it’s a very lean fish. They’re very tender, with a mild flavor. In the hands of a skilled chef, this fish can create a captivating and delicious meal. It’s no different than many other types of seafood, meaning it’s high in protein and healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acid, and has healthy doses of many vitamins and nutrients. However, people living in the United States have been advised to avoid picking up monkfish from the markets. This has nothing to do with monkfish itself, but how it’s labeled in the States.
Monkfish is perfectly safe to eat and contains 0 toxins, however, pufferfish does and this is commonly mislabeled as monkfish in the States. Fish mislabeling is a big problem across the industry, however, because of this egregious error, many people become quite sick, or even face hospitalization because of the consumption of improperly labeled fish.
When this situation doesn’t come into play, monkfish is a considerably more healthy option than some other fish - the FDA considers monkfish to be a good choice that can be eaten once a week. The mercury levels in monkfish are safer than those found in fish like tuna or marlin.
Why Should You Avoid Eating Monkfish?
If you live in the United States, you should reconsider buying monkfish from the market. As previously stated, the fishing industry has a serious problem with mislabeling fish and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with pufferfish instead of monkfish. Pufferfish is also delicious, but due to the extreme levels of toxins in the body, it absolutely must be prepared by an expertly trained professional.
Also, it’s worth considering the mercury content. Studies have shown that the growth of mercury in a fish’s system is directly linked with its age - meaning the older the fish, the higher the mercury content. Since monkfish can live for more than a decade, the buildup of mercury may become significant.
While keeping all these things in mind, monkfish is quite healthy and overall, the nutrition is highly beneficial.
Is Monkfish Sustainable?
Fishing has documented effects on the environment. The commercial fishing industry is a massive threat to the oceans, as many fishing companies utilize methods that result in severe overfishing of certain areas. These tactics are often destructive to the environment and delicate marine life ecosystems.
Even fish farms can be problematic, despite the strict regulations in some areas and their controlled environments. These farms will use up quite a bit more energy than their livestock counterparts such as pig farms. They can even result in dangerous levels of greenhouse gasses being produced.
Such issues are directly linked to large-scale fishing operations. To keep up with such a massive workload, ever larger boats are needed, and out of desperation, some questionable tactics and strategies to harvest the most fish possible are used.
Is Monkfish Hard To Cook?
Monkfish isn’t difficult to work with for the most part. It’s often considered the poor man’s lobster because it has a very similar taste - which makes a lot of sense considering they’re both edible bottom feeders.
You just need to avoid overcooking, and it doesn’t matter which cooking method you employ. The meat absorbs marinades and sauces well, and if you want to avoid the secretion of liquid during the cooking process all you need to do is soak it in salted water for an hour before you cook it, and make sure it’s dry.
Before you cook it, you’ll need to take out the pinkish gray membranes and rinse the fish out in cold water. If you leave these membranes in, it’ll cause the fish to curl up when exposed to heat and it’ll be tougher to cook. You’ll end up with an overcooked rubbery mess of a fish.
While there are quite a few things to consider when buying monkfish - sustainability, safety, etc. - for the most part it’s a very safe and delicious fish that would do well in any fish-lover’s recipe list.