Monkfish ­– As delicious as they are dangerous

Spring 2023

By Jean Kerr

Photo courtesy

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” quipped Jonathan Swift. While that’s no doubt true, it must have been a man crazed or blinded with hunger who first ate a monkfish. Not only are they frightening to look at, but, according to the Maine Sea Grant website, “Extra care should be taken when handling these fish because their bite can be dangerous.” At least an oyster won’t bite your hand off when gathered.

Monkfish belong to the family of turpis delectamenti, or hideously deformed, ugly, but delicious. (Not really. I just made that up.) But it’s an apt classification. There are not many species of fish that rate quite so high on the ugliness scale or that rank so near the top of the culinary charts.

Monkfish can grow up to five feet, but most specimens these days are more likely to be in the three-foot range. Their mouth is lined with very sharp teeth that slant slightly inward to discourage prey from exiting that enormous maw. They are voracious feeders.

Years ago, when recipe testing for my first cookbook, I was delighted to find monkfish tails at my local market, only to find that, later that week, they had disappeared from the fresh seafood case. “Couldn’t sell ‘em. I guess they’re just too weird,” said the young man at the fish counter.

Due to their enormous mouth, sharp teeth and ability to consume things that are nearly their own size – they can feed on lobsters, crabs, squid and even a seabird or two. Monkfish in these parts, which regularly dine on tasty crustaceans like lobster, absorb some of that essence. Hence, they are sometimes referred to as “poor man’s lobster” (I did not make that up.) The tail of the monkfish is considered some very fine eating indeed.

Some people also describe the mouthfeel of monkfish as similar to the tail of a gently cooked lobster. Due to this firmness, monkfish can stand up to a variety of cooking methods, including grilling and high-heat searing. It does not become opaque and flake the way groundfish like cod or haddock will when properly cooked and has the body to stand up to assertive seasonings.

The recipe below is based on a recipe for wolffish that appears in “The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook.” This group ain’t no coffee klatch. The non-profit has existed since 1969 and has been a major force in research, education, environmental and sustainability practices and improving quality of life for those in the fishing industry. They were instrumental in preventing drilling for oil off Stellwagen Bank in the ’70s. Check out to learn more.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including, “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor Magazine and a regular contributor to Cruising World.

Coconut Monkfish

While the recipe in the “Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook” uses this technique for preparing wolffish (a runner-up in the ugliest fish contest), it works well for monkfish also. The texture of both these fishes stands up well to crunchy breading and frying. I like to serve this with an Asian-type sauce like hoisin or duck sauce.


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning, like Old Bay (optional)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 pound of monkfish, cut into 2-3” chunks
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Lemon or lime wedges for serving


  1. Mix together the egg and milk. Mix together the flour, salt, seasoning.
  2. Dip fish in egg and milk mixture; then dredge in the flour mixture.
  3. In a deep saucepan, heat oil to about 350-370 degrees F. Though I haven’t tried this, I’ve been told that if you dip a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles form and float up, the oil is the right temperature for frying.
  4. Gently lower the pieces into hot oil and fry until pieces are golden brown and begin to float to the surface. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with citrus slices and your favorite sauce for dipping.