I have also been re-reading Anthony Bourdain’s (he of “Kitchen Confidential” fame) “A Cook’s Tour” in which he travels the world looking for the ultimate meal. There are a couple of evocative scenes in Portugal and Spain, where the use of chorizo and seafood figure heavily. For those of you who have not yet discovered Bourdain, he is an essential read for the foodie, for anyone who has ever worked in catering, and particularly for anyone who has ever day-dreamed about becoming a professional cook: the last may definitely think twice after reading Kitchen Confidential. He writes very well, being funny, sarcastic, bitter, twisted, passionate, rude, brutally honest and totally entertaining throughout. Whatever else you may take from his books, you certainly leave them feeling hungry.
A third inspiration for this meal is that I live just a few seconds walk from the sea, in a small, West Country town, where there are not one, but two, first-class fishmongers, as well as several other excellent food stores, including a deli where I could pick up the chorizo. Quite literally, the ingredients for this were available right on my doorstep.
Those of you who have read previous Guerilla Griller posts will know by now that I am passionate about several issues: anyone who eats can learn to cook, and cook well; good cooking isn’t difficult; buy good food, real food, which doesn’t mean buy the most expensive (although, for this recipe, I accept that monkfish is quite costly); without necessarily becoming a fanatic, be aware of issues such as sustainable fish stocks, responsible and ethical farming practices; buy local and free range/organic where practical.
There has been controversy in recent years as to whether monkfish are in decline or not, and therefore whether or not we should eat them. It currently appears that British stocks are healthy, and that British fishermen generally catch them in an ethical and sustainable manner. Who knows how long this will remain so: for now, I’ll eat monkfish as an occasional treat and keep an eye on the sustainability websites. If you are not from Britain, please do your own checks on the ethics of eating monkfish in your part of the world, or by all means substitute another meaty fish that is available to you. I’d love you to leave your suggestions in the comments box below: I would suggest alternatives (some costly, some quite affordable – and only from sustainable sources, of course) such as sea bass, shark, scallops, lobster, gurnard or pollack.
Monkfish used to be cheap: it is an ugly brute, also known as Anglerfish, and its looks would scare the living daylights out of customers at the fishmongers. It was therefore usually sold only as fillets, and frequently chopped up for the frozen food industry and sold as mock-scampi, or even sent to the canneries for cat food. Now we know better, and the price has shot up (thank you, TV chefs). Still, it is delicious, and, like I say, good for an occasional treat. If you’re not that great with a filleting knife, get your fishmonger to do it for you. Don’t even consider buying frozen.
Tomatoes: I have written similar about tomatoes before on these pages, and doubtless will again. If, and only if, fresh, ripe, flavoursome tomatoes are available to you in season, then use them and be thankful – and if there’s a glut, take advantage, buy lots and make and freeze down portions of good, home-made tomato sauce. Don’t use bland, hothouse, supermarket toms that have the taste and texture of vaguely acidic cotton wool. Please don’t. If we all stop buying the damn things then eventually they’ll stop selling these travesties. I swear that there are generations of kids who have no idea what tomatoes actually taste like, despite eating tomato-like objects every day. If there aren’t any good toms in season, then use good quality canned ones.
Monkfish and Chorizo Stew (serves 2 – 4, depending on accompaniment, greed and appetite – this is VERY moreish)
12 oz/340gram monkfish tail fillet, all bone and skin removed, cut into bite sized chunks
4oz/110gram chorizo, bought in the piece, roughly chopped, skin removed if tough
1 large onion, peeled and roughly sliced
1 large red or yellow pepper
2 fat cloves garlic (or more if you’re a garlic fan), peeled and sliced very thinly
1lb/440gram tomatoes – either fresh (see note above) skinned, deseeded and roughly chopped, or the equivalent amount of good quality tinned tomatoes, also chopped
A couple of pinches of a good robust herb, such as thyme or rosemary, roughly chopped
Good sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A glass of red or white wine
Olive oil for cooking
Put the pepper in a hot oven or under the grill until the skin is completely blackened. Put into a plastic bag or sealable container until cool, then all the black skin should come off easily, leaving the sweet flesh – you can give it a wipe with a damp cloth, but don’t run it under the tap or half the flavour will go down the drain. Remove the stalk and seeds, and cut into similar sized slices to the onion.
Put a good splash of olive oil into your frying pan, and gently sweat the onion and pepper slices until they begin to soften, and the onion takes on a little colour. Add the finely sliced garlic and continue to cook until that too softens and takes on golden tinges – watch it like a hawk, as burned garlic tastes hideous and will spoil the whole dish. Remove the vegetables from the pan, and reserve, along with any cooking juices that have released.
Raise the heat a little, and add a splash more oil if needed. Fry the chorizo pieces until they begin to colour, and then reduce the heat to a bare minimum. Return the vegetables to the pan, stirring well, and you should see the paprika colouring begin to seep from the chorizo, tingeing all with its brick-red goodness. Add the tomatoes, the wine, the herbs and the seasoning.
Allow the stew to gently simmer away for at least an hour, or as long as you like – the longer the better, but at least until the chorizo has become very tender and has thoroughly flavoured and coloured the sauce. If it starts becoming dry, add a little plain water, or stock if you prefer and have some handy. (You could cook to this stage the day before, refrigerate overnight, and then reheat before serving.)
Add the chunks of fish, stirring them well into the stew. Depending on their size, they may take five to ten minutes to cook through. Monkfish is pretty robust, but don’t cook it for much longer – monkfish can suddenly release rather a lot of juice; don’t be alarmed if this happens, just stir it in. If you want to be a bit cheffy, and I’m afraid I often do, first stir-fry the fish in a separate hot pan or wok, with a little oil and butter, for just a few minutes, until it takes on a golden brown colour, and then stir into the stew – it will obviously then only need a very few more minutes to finish.
You could serve this with any kind of carb you like: rice, noodles, potatoes, but most times, I will serve this with a good salad and hunks of crusty bread. And plenty of wine.