Wild Garlic Monkfish Kiev
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"Monkfish is called the poor man's lobster. As long as people never see what it looks like whole, they love it."
Werner Auer, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Houston (date unknown)
Anyone who knows me or follows what I write about food knows I absolutely love wild garlic. I look forward to its arrival each spring eagerly even if that arrival is just a sign that spring is upon us and summer is soon to come. I'm very fortunate to have a lovely couple of friends in Devon, Sam and Ginny, whose nearby woods become carpeted with the stuff at this time of year and they very kindly send me (large) batches of freshly-foraged leaves by post.
Having, for quite some time, wanted to try out a fishy version of the classic Chicken Kiev I’m really quite pleased with this little number. The softer texture and garlic flavour of the wild garlic is perfectly sympathetic to the milder and more delicate nature of the fish. And monkfish is the ideal candidate for the composition of the dish, having about the most ‘meaty’ texture of the white fish varieties. I'm not really up-to-speed with the seasonality of monkfish, but what is evident is that it is coming to the farmers' market with great regularity just at the moment, in a manner I don't really recall from the past ten or so years.
Though monkfish is potentially the ideal fish for this dish, with some deftness of touch and some depth of pocket, a large lobster tail would be a truly luxurious incarnation of the idea. The strategy in that case would be to freeze some wild garlic and parsley butter now and reserve it for the summer when lobster prices are at their most affordable. On that subject, I was drawn to the alleged quote at the top of this post when I found it on foodreference.com because there are many suggestions that monkfish, at a time, was used as a substitute for langoustine in a much-scorned pub classic, "breaded scampi".
Looking through some of my more traditional cookbooks it's clear potato is the desirable accompaniment, most writers advocating it be in mashed form. But one of my favourite of these books is “The Prawn Cocktail Years” by two of my favourite food-writers, Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham and their choice is chips – much more up my street. And to complete the plate, I propose another seasonal foodie-favourite, some purple sprouting broccoli.
One trick I’ve happened upon in the stuffing of a Kiev is to avoid using cubes of frozen butter as the sharp edges are prone to cutting holes through which the melting stuffing leaks. Better, I find, to chill the garlic butter in a ramekin and use a melon-baller (or similar) to carve out small spheres which can be more safely stuffed into the flesh. Another trick (read cheat) is to melt a little extra garlic butter to serve along-with because, frankly, there’s never enough in the centre of a Kiev. The amount of wild garlic and parsley butter the ingredient quantities below will make is more than is required for a two-person serving. But it freezes superbly and if rolled into a "sausage" before going into the freezer can, for weeks or months hence, be sliced on demand to be melted over anything from fish fillets, chicken breasts and beef or lamb steaks, to grilled mushrooms or other grilled vegetables.
It's well worth double-coating the Kievs in the flour, egg and breadcrumbs as this gives a certain extra layer of security against any excess leaking of the buttery centre, but it also makes the Kievs extra-crunchy! Once coated the Kievs can remain in the fridge for a day or so, but can also be wrapped up and kept in the freezer for several weeks, and defrosted in the fridge for 12 hours in advance of cooking.
Wild Garlic Monkfish Kiev
Ingredients (Serves 2)
Two 150g fillets of monkfish, about 1½-2" in diameter
Plain flour for dusting (twice)
Paprika, a couple of good pinches of hot, sweet or smoked (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
Panko (or other) breadcrumbs, sufficient to coat (twice)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Oil for shallow frying, plus a little extra for greasing
For the wild garlic and parsley butter:
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
20g wild garlic leaves, stalks removed, chopped
2-3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
½ tsp sea salt flakes
Make the wild garlic and parsley butter first. Stir all the ingredients together well in a mixing bowl then put in a ramekin or small bowl and transfer to the fridge to firm up - half an hour should be sufficient.
Snip a small chunk of monkfish from the narrowest end of each fillet to use as a 'plug' to help prevent the flavoured butter from escaping. Set these aside. Using a skewer or small, pointed knife, pierce a channel through the centre of the fillets taking care not to pierce the sides, nor piercing the other end. Expand this channel with the handle of a wooden spoon or similar implement to make a 'tunnel' for the filling. Retrieve the wild garlic and parsley butter from the fridge and, using a melon-baller or a ¼ tsp measuring spoon, scoop out spheres of the butter and gently push these into the monkfish fillets taking care not to press so hard as to breach the outer edges of the flesh. Before filling completely, press the 'plugs' into the opening of the channel to create a seal.
Put the flour in a dish of a suitable size for rolling the stuffed fish fillets in and mix in the paprika if using. Put the beaten eggs in another such bowl and the breadcrumbs in a third. Season the monkfish fillets well with salt and freshly ground black pepper then dust with the flour, shake off the excess, roll in the beaten egg, drain off the excess, then coat with the breadcrumbs. Repeat this process with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs a second time for each fillet. Put on a tray and transfer to the fridge for half an hour so that everything becomes cohesive.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a baking sheet with a little oil. Heat the oil for shallow frying (¼" depth) in a pan and cook the Kievs for about 5-7 minutes, over a medium heat, turning several times until the coating has become crisp and golden all over. Transfer the Kievs to the greased baking sheet and place in the oven to finish cooking for about 8-10 mins depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. Serve straightaway with chips and some green veg but beware, the centre of the Kievs will be piping hot!
"The Prawn Cocktail Years", Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham (1997), pp. 119: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Years-Lindsey-Bareham/dp/0718149807
"Monkfish Quotes", foodreference.com, accessed 28 April 2021