Few home cooks are brave enough to prepare monkfish liver in their own kitchens. I am not one of the few. I am an unapologetic liver hater, a distaste I attribute to being required to eat calves’ liver every month as a child, its bitterness inadequately masked by a meager bacon ration.

Josh Berry shows columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige how to cook and plate monkfish liver. The rich “foie gras of the seas” is a good argument for using more parts of the fish, not just the fillets. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

I do, however, know people like Josh Berry, executive chef at Union Restaurant in The Press Hotel in Portland, who says monk liver is both tasty and a good eating habit, as it is a step toward nostril-to-fin eating of precious Gulf of Maine seafood.

Monkfish – whose international aliases include anglerfish, ankou (in Japan), baudrole (in France), frogfish, goosefish, kotlettfisk (in Sweden) and sea devil – are Atlantic Ocean bottom feeders with faces only a mother could find endearing. They can grow to 4 feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds. Their heads are huge, mostly mouths sporting rows of fang-sharp teeth. Between their small eyes sits a spike, technically it’s a modified dorsal fin spine, that resembles a fishing rod. It helps these carnivorous creatures lure prey. They have a voracious appetite for anything that moves, including smaller monkfish.

Americans typically eat only the tail, which yields two, mild-tasting, pork tenderloin-shaped fillets, one from either side of the fish’s spine. Cooked monkfish tail has a texture closer to cooked lobster than to flaky cod. Maine’s monkfish fishery was booming 30 years ago, but overfishing concerns prompted catch limits circa 1999. Fishery management officials have since deemed stocks recovered, and local fishermen’s groups are working to bring back its popularity on the plate.

Monkfish is rarely brought to shore whole. The heads are routinely removed at sea and tossed overboard as chum. So too are the viscera, including the monkfish livers – unless, that is, enterprising fishermen understand their value as the foie gras of the sea. Seafood distributor Gulf of Maine Sashimi pays fishermen top dollar for fish dispatched using the Japanese technique ike jime and then brought to shore in a slurry of seawater and ice. The result is pristine flesh. Gulf of Maine Sashimi CEO Jen Levin says some of the fishermen she works with also bag the livers and place them in the slurry to keep them fresh tasting and safe to eat.

Harvesting monkfish liver carries none of the ethical stigma attached to traditional goose or duck liver production, but it puts almost as much luxurious fat content into the frame. “What makes foie gras so rich is its 48 percent fat content,” Berry said. Monkfish liver stands at about 40 percent fat so, Berry explains, while one can’t cook it exactly like foie gras, it is a similarly upscale delicacy. Its lower concentration of minerals gives it a milder taste than most land-based animal livers. The flavor reminds Berry of springtime shad roe.

To introduce diners to monkfish liver, Berry likes to marinate the offal for several hours, simmer it in heavy cream and whizz the liver and cream in the food processor. He slathers the resultant mousse on thick pain de mie toast points as an amuse bouche. That is what he prepared for me, and I would happily eat it again.

Occasionally, Berry also puts monkfish liver on the menu as an appetizer, or stirs it into seafood soup, stews or pasta dishes to boost their seafood flavor and creamy texture.

Removing the veins is the trickiest part of monkfish prep, and will keep the final dish from being stringy. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The trickiest part of preparing monkfish liver is removing its veins. Berry suggests using blunt tweezers for the job. If they remained, the veins wouldn’t change the flavor of a dish, but they could contribute an unpleasantly stringy texture.

Chef Evan Mallett, owner of the The Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, gushes about the ingredient. “Monkfish livers are so great – rich, creamy, briny and really unlike anything else,” Mallet said. Because they are so rich, he uses them judiciously. He breads and fries thin slices, which he serves with aioli and pickled vegetables; combines the liver with lobster roe, lemon, garlic, breadcrumbs and parsley to turn taramasalata into an emulsified spread; and grinds it up with fish, scallops and lobster to make poached seafood chorizo.

Australian chef Josh Niland recently published “The Whole Fish Cookbook,” an extension of that country’s first wholly sustainable fishmonger operation, The Fish Butchery, which sells dry-aged, cured and smoked fish and offal so that no edible part of a fish is wasted. The book offers simple preparations for John Dory Liver Pâté and ghee-fried Bar Cod Liver and Parsley on Toast. Niland gives the nod to monkfish liver as a fine substitute in either recipe.

If you’re still not ready to cook monkfish liver, do give it a chance if you see it on a restaurant menu. It will please your palate and encourage the chef to serve it again, in turn increasing demand, making it worth a fisherman’s effort to land it rather than toss overboard. Waste not, want not.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Monkfish liver cooks in cream at low heat. Whipped with wine, shallots and more, the mixture can be turned into mousse to serve with toast. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Monkfish Liver Mousse
Chef Josh Berry of Union Restaurant at The Press Hotel in Portland developed this recipe using dehydrated, ground citrus peel, and he marinated for less time as he used a sous vide process. But this version would work easily in your own kitchen.

Makes 2½ cups

FOR THE MARINATED MONKFISH LIVER:
2 pounds fresh monkfish liver
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE MOUSSE:
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup white wine
½ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Prep the monkfish liver by removing the veins with a pair of tweezers and cutting any visible blemishes from the liver. Set liver in a high-sided non-reactive dish (like a casserole dish) and place it in the refrigerator while you make the marinade. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour the mixture over the liver. Cover and return to the refrigerator to marinate for 8 hours.

Add the cream, wine, chicken broth, garlic, shallots, salt and pepper to a medium-size pot. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Pull the liver from the marinade, place it in the cream and simmer for 20 minutes. The cream mixture should be reduced by half at this point. While both the liver and the cream are still warm, transfer them to a blender and blend on high speed until velvety smooth, 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the mousse to a serving dish. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours. Serve the chilled mousse with grilled bread and pickled vegetables.

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