Ah, Spring. On Monday Husband & I celebrated by sewing grass seed (blech), weeding (blech), and grilling for the first time! YAY! I love the first grilling of the season. I had to race to Weiland's to make sure I got a bag of real charcoal. Seriously, nothing is better than real charcoal. It makes everything so delicious. Whilst at Weiland's, I was standing at the fish counter, trying to find something I might be able to grill. Alas, Copper River Salmon was $37 a pound. So I started thinking maybe we'd just have some seafood for an appetizer.
And my eyes landed on Monk Fish Cheeks! Now, I am quite a fan of cheeks - I've written about halibut cheeks before, so I won't go on and on about how you should eat cheeks. Suffice it to say that cheeks are delicious. And I love monkfish. But I've never had monk cheeks before. I wasn't even aware there were cheeks on a monkfish.
I think I might have said before that monk fish is a great starter fish if you are nervous about cooking fish. It isn't really thin and flaky, so it won't fall apart when you try to turn it, it withstands overcooking pretty well, and it has a mild, sweet flavor and aroma, so it won't stink up your kitchen.
You could make this recipe with a regular monkfish filet, but you might want to slice it into medallions before cooking, to keep everything small.
The toast isn't necessary here, but I've been baking a lot of bread yesterday and we made grilled bread with olive oil, so we just topped it with the saute; it is nice because the toast sucks up all of the butter morel-y goodness and is very tasty to eat after the topping are gone.
This would be especially delicious with fresh chive flowers, as soon as they arrive in farmer's markets!
Monkfish Cheeks & Morels on Toast - serves 4 as an appetizer
1/4 pound Morel mushrooms, or other flavorful mushroom such as shitake or maitake
4 monkfish cheeks, or halibut cheeks, or 1 8 ounce monkfish filet
6 tbsp butter, cut into 1/2 tbsp chunks
Salt & Pepper
3/4 cup white wine
1 tbsp lemon juice
Here's a little lesson about morels: they contain a lot of bugs. And sometimes worms. Just be forewarned. If you are given to fits of formication, you might want to ask a loved one to cut the mushrooms for you. When I put the morels onto a plate to photographed, I looked away and when I returned to them about 2 minutes later, the plate had about 30 tiny little jumping bugs on it *shiver*. But it's okay. Slice each morel in half lengthwise and place them in a colander in a bowl. Fill with water and drain. Repeat until the water is clean and bug-free (it might take up to 10 rinsings). Forget all that nonsense about the mushrooms retaining water. You are going to use them immediately and the water is going to cook out anyway.
When the morels are clean, trim off the root end. Bring a nonstick pan to medium heat and add 1 tbsp butter and a bit of olive oil. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to brown lightly. If they give off any water, turn the heat up to high and saute until the water has evaporated. Remove them to a bowl and set aside.
Pat the monkfish cheeks dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp butter and a little olive oil. When the butter has melted, carefully add the cheeks (they should sizzle). Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until they are nicely browned. Add the white wine and cook until it has reduced to about 1/3 cup liquid. At this point, the cheeks should be done; they should be firm to the touch. You can check the doneness by inserting a sharp paring knife into the center; hold if for a second and then remove and touch the knife to your tongue or lip (carefully!) if it is hot, the fish is done (now you know a secret kitchen secret!!). Remove the cheeks to a plate and add the remaining butter to the white wine in the pan; stir lightly with a whisk and then add the lemon juice. Add the cheeks and morels back to the pan and toss to coat. Serve over toast, drizzling with any leftover sauce.
Congratulations: you've made a delicious appetizer and learned how to make a pan sauce! Woot!